“It’s an interesting premise, and a great format in theory.”
There have been plenty of meditations on the problems with social media and influencers. And there have been plenty of stories told about the ugly truth behind fame. Fame Whore has as stab at both. And though we’ve seen these ideas many times before, there’s a complexity and messiness to this one which sticks with me on my journey home, and which ultimately makes it worth a watch.
Becky Biro is a hard-working drag artist, showcasing her sass and silly song-writing across the city. But she finds herself caught between wanting to do the right thing and promote the rights of the underrepresented, and being completely and utterly selfish, taking what she feels she deserves without consequence.
Having been rejected from Drag Factor year after year, she decides the only way she’ll be accepted is by gaining an undeniably massive and committed social media following. But how to go about it?
The show is split in to two main chunks: ‘1. Becky Biro is a good person and all of this just happened to her’, and ‘2. Becky is a total bitch, and this is what she really did’. It’s a great way to split up the narrative: first we get to know Becky, we’re on her side. Then we get down to the gritty truth.
This is the kind of drag I love, on a shoe-string budget, but with plenty of extra touches to keep our campy spirits up. A brilliant nod to Drag-Race star Sasha Velour’s shaking out her wig to reveal raining petals is a particular highlight.
Alys Whitehead’s design- a mirrored floor, a colour-changing ring light, and a glittery blue curtain- set the scene, but ultimately, Gigi Zahir is the show. Zahir, aka Crayola the Queen, is magnetic as fame-hungry Becky. Touting shallow nonsense- “Beckly Biro is delicious and good tasting but also nutritious. It’s not just donuts for dinner!”- so fluently, it’s as though the person behind the drag has been completely lost under that enormous blue wig. But Zahir is also a dab hand at dropping the façade abruptly, if only for a moment, so that we see the honest, whimpering desperation.
It’s an interesting premise, and a great format in theory. The trouble is, it’s a half hour too long, and ends up being a bit of a drag. Whilst Zahir is fabulous, and writer Tom Ratcliffe has moments of charming vitriol, the story just isn’t really meaty enough for 90 minutes straight through.
“There are lovely moments of humour, juxtaposed with the darkness of Michael Crean’s evocative sound”
It’s quite apt that Tom Ratcliffe’s play “Evelyn” opens with a semi-grotesque, semi-comic re-enactment of a ‘Punch and Judy’ show. Set in a seaside town overlooking the North Sea, the action is constructed to provoke a mixture of outrage and guilty pleasure. We used to laugh at the puppet show, but modern sensibilities have forced it out of fashion. After all, when stripped down, who is Punch but a misogynistic old womaniser, who likes a drink, and who displays unashamed homicidal tendencies? Within fifteen minutes of a typical show the corpses mount up; including his child, his wife and a policeman thrown in for good measure.
Popular consensus has all but killed off the four-hundred-year-old tradition. But what Ratcliffe’s drama (based on actual events) points out is that the storyline is often repeated in real life. And in that real life, ‘popular consensus’ so easily becomes mob rule.
The surreal, albeit a touch confusing, quality generated by the Punch and Judy characters that pop up throughout the show, reveals the back story. Ten years earlier, Evelyn Mills witnessed her husband murder their child. She covered up for him, lied in court and presumably let him get off scot-free while she did time. We never really learn the fate of the murderous and abusive husband, but bizarrely it is Evelyn who is vilified. The villagers are furious that she was allowed to change her identity and be let back into society.
Meanwhile, in the present action, Sandra (Nicola Harrison) arrives in town just as the community concur that Evelyn is back in town. Fingers point at her. Understandably so, she’s an odd ball, claiming she’s from Reading, Ryde, Rochdale; whatever takes her fancy. Thinking she is going to be renting a private apartment she finds herself flat-sharing in a retirement village with dotty Jeanne (Rula Lenska). Sandra is emphatic she needs to be on her own but rapidly hooks up with local electrician Kevin (Offue Okegbe). Kevin’s sister, Laura (Yvette Boakye) bristles at the tryst.
There are bonds that unite the female characters together, focusing on concepts of motherhood and loss, but the performances fail to gel in the same cohesive way. Lenska is watchable, reminiscent of Joanna Lumley’s Patsy, but is carted off before her true relevance is realised. While there are hints of passive aggressiveness towards Harrison’s subtly portrayed Sandra, Boakye’s Laura is just aggressive. She represents the mob, while Okegbe’s Kevin gives Sandra the benefit of the doubt. Is love blind? Or is it everybody else, who cannot see beyond the hive mentality?
The question is never fully resolved. But we never fully engage in the outcome either. The performances lack the rich conviction needed to hit the target that Ratcliffe’s writing is aiming for, exploring some urgent and relevant topics while questioning society’s perception of justice, vigilantism, social media and collective coercion. There are lovely moments of humour, juxtaposed with the darkness of Michael Crean’s evocative sound (performed live by Crean), but the shift of styles distracts. The kitchen sink realism sits uncomfortably beside the ‘Commedia dell’arte’ exaggeration. The intention is crystal clear, but is muddied by its execution.