Tag Archives: Paperback Theatre

Soaping Up

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BOBBY (OFF EASTENDERS)

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Wednesday 10th April, 2019

 

The titular Bobby is a young lad from the fictional London borough of Walford, famed for committing the murder of his elder sister and for braining his mum with a hockey stick before being caught bang to rights and carted off to a detention centre.  This play by George Attwell-Gerhards looks at the psychological effects of such storylines on the child actors who enact them.

Here, Annie (Laura Adebisi) is a twelve-year-old who, being no longer cute enough for yogurt adverts, lands a job in what seems to be a particularly sordid soap opera.  She puts a hockey stick to good use against her mother before getting locked in her father’s basement and fall victim to his sexual predations.  The action jumps from Annie’s audition, to shooting scenes from the soap, to her deteriorating home life… with Attwell-Gerhards’s script charting the blurring of lines between fiction and reality, the pressures of sudden fame on someone so young, the treatment of young stars by the media – there’s a lot packed into this hour-long piece and director Lucy Bird keeps things taut, as her cast of three flick between characters, like switching channels by remote control.

Tom Bulpett is Annie’s dad, thrust into a PR role for which he is unprepared and unsuited.  He is also a casting director, and Annie’s soap co-star.  Cara Mahooney is Annie’s mum, and a friendly make-up artist who takes Annie under her wing, and a TV director, feeling the pressure.  Both actors are top-notch and there is never any confusion about who they are at any particular moment, their characterisations are well-differentiated and clear.  The characters represent a range of abusive and exploitative experiences Annie faces – the play certainly exposes a kind of child abuse that is rarely considered: the effect on the young psyche of playing out extreme and disturbing situations.  We have all heard stories of grown-up child stars struggling to cope with life in the real world, and such stories invariably tell of crime and drugs and mental illness.

As the central figure, Laura Adebisi is credibly child-like, enthusiastic and eager to please.  Adebisi combines vulnerability with stroppiness, as Annie lashes out at her real dad, while chumming up with her onscreen, abusive dad.  We see her psychological decline in tandem with her onscreen character’s deprivations, culminating in a scene with an iron that must be a homage to Little Mo and Trevor, that iconic moment of a woman standing up to her abuser.

This is powerful stuff.  Darkly comic to begin with, satirising the industry, it develops into a gripping psychological drama.  The transitions are slick and effective, and there is dissonant sound underlining Annie’s distress.  I would suggest the TV screen that comes on at the end is too small to have the necessary impact, but the intimacy of the Old Joint Stock puts us right in the action, making us as viewers complicit in the exploitation of a child.

There are a couple of instances when they ask, “Annie, are you OK?” – and I can’t decide if this is unintentionally awkward or intentionally clever…

This is the second show from Birmingham’s Paperback Theatre that I have seen in a couple of months.  They’re two for two in terms of excellence, in my view.

bobby

Tom Bulpett and Laura Adebisi

 

 

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Inflated Opinion

ME AND MY DOLL

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Thursday 28th February, 2019

 

This two-hander, written and directed by Lucy Bird, gets off to a bit of a Shirley Valentine start with twenty-something Kate speaking to herself and to the blow-up doll given to her by her ‘friends’ because of her apparent inability to land herself a real boyfriend.  The doll is a punchbag at first and then a sounding board as Kate vents her frustrations and then tries out a more ‘feminine’ and nurturing manner, as prescribed by the company she works for.  Kate finds she is rubbish at conforming to gender expectations, and why should she have to change at all, just to get along in a man’s world?

Miraculously, the doll comes to life, in an endearingly funny performance by Thomas Bulpett.  He unearths Kate’s secret stash of rom-com DVDs and learns all about life and love from them.  There’s a lot of fun to be had spotting all the references, but Kate, unlike the heroines of these movies, can tell the difference between reality and fiction.  In a reversal of Pygmalion, the Doll tries to teach manners and acceptable behaviour to the human, so Kate can go out with a ‘real man’ (whatever that is).  As their relationship develops in complexity, we wonder who needs whom, who is playing with whom, and can we ever tell if what someone says they feel about us is real.  Is the Doll genuine in his affections or does he, like everyone, have his own agenda?  Will he get what he wants or will the situation blow up (heh) in his face?

Rachel Baker is funny, volatile and tender as the feisty Kate, while Thomas Bulpett is simply excellent in this latter-day Toy Story.   Lucy Bird’s script is fresh, witty and rich, touching and clever, and as director, she ensures the actors explore the physicality of their roles to the full: the Doll’s movements, Kate’s terrible dancing…

Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, this is a rom-com for our times.  Foul-mouthed and funny, this production by Birmingham’s own Paperback Theatre Company is a vibrant new work that is definitely not a let-down!

Doll banner

Hello, Dolly! Rebecca Baker and companion