Writers: Nicola Bland, Stacey Bland
Director: Victoria Gimby
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
With the point clearly flagged up by Vicky’s mother in the opening minutes, the 1980’s in London was a potentially dangerous place for men and women stepping outside gender and sexuality norms. And Vicky isn’t stepping so much as leaping vibrantly into an unpredictable future, complete with leopard-print heels, purple sparkly trousers and full make-up. There’s an ever-present threat of violence and thankfully it only came when the play’s emotional journey needed it most. It shows admirable restraint from the co-authors, Stacey and Nicola Bland here who have avoided sensationalising the story and kept it human and (though this is not something the majority of people have experienced) relatable.
Providing a brief look at the true story of Vicky – who transitioned from being a man called Martin in the late 80’s – the play packs a huge amount of detail and feeling into 70 minutes. Focusing mainly on the actions on-stage and behind the scenes of the Golden Girl drag club, Call Me Vicky is a portrait of a tough life, built on strong bonds and constant struggle. Addiction, “clipping” and full-on prostitution, petty crime and semi-glam drag acts make up the days of Vicky and her friends as she saves enough cash to transition fully.
Wrapped up in a simple set, the outfits (both designed by Martha Hegarty) set off the excellent characters. Fat Pearl (Ben Welch) is the drag club owner, gruff but protective, providing a reflection of some parts of Vicky’s own mother played by Wendi Peters. Vicky’s best friend Debbie is played by Nicola Bland, as a supportive, caring force for good in all their lives, in contrast to Gabby (Victoria Bland) who tries extremely hard to make a better life for her and her son before succumbing again to a drug addiction. Adam Young as Sid is actually the sweetest punk you could meet. Vicky herself, played by a charismatic Matt Greenwood, is a beautiful character – soft in parts and spikily wary in others. It’s a great portrayal of someone going through a difficult time with absolute conviction.
While it feels honest and a fair recounting of the true story it’s based on, it also raises questions about how many others went through that process, that life, and what was the outcome for them. It’s evocative, fresh new work, and while not perfect it’s tightly written, performed well, funny and engaging. Part of the Pleasance Theatre’s #YouWillKnowTheirNames run of new writing, it hopefully sets the tone for more work like it on a tough topic.
And can someone please give Fat Pearl a full actual drag night?
Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: Fabio Santos.