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Chewing Gum Dreams – HighTide Festival, Halesworth

Writer and Performer: Michaela Coel

Director: Ché Walker

Reviewer: Glen Pearce



chewing_gum_dreamsSchooldays are supposed to be the happiest of our lives. For many, though, that view is tainted by a rose tinted passage of time, softening our memories of those formative years.

For Tracey Gordon, school life is anything but rosy. For her it’s a microcosm of human life, her place in the classroom defined by her social standing and worryingly defined by her race. It’s a tough existence where your every move, your behaviour and, more importantly, your attitude shapes your standing in the eyes of your peers.

Tracey’s voice is crying out to be heard but being a black teenager in one of the most deprived areas of London her chances of being listened to seem slim. In Michaela Coel’s powerhouse one-woman show, though, Tracey’s voice rings out loud and clear.

While adolescent life may be tough for Tracey it’s also streaked with humour, her bumbling confusion with the morning after pill, her appreciation of Indian bus drivers and her cutting observations of those around her.

Coel’s performance as the teenager is pitched perfectly, from opening furtive glances to the incoming audience she pulls us into her palm and holds us there throughout. With nothing more than a single chair and some simple lighting and sound Coel conjures up an entire London community.

Coel switches us between comedy and darker material at the flick of a head; one minute hearing a graphic description of ‘Fat Lisa’ the next her face contorted in pain as bully Aaron gropes her on the number 67 bus.

By the time the material takes an even darker turn with violence and miscarriages, you are totally engrossed in this community that it’s almost a personal attack.

Coel’s writing and mesmerising performance creates a complete package that shows that you don’t need a large cast and set to create engrossing theatre. While Coel’s piece will do little to convince that school days were actually the best days of your life, as a record of the trials of trying to find your own voice in your teenage years it’s hard to beat. For a masterclass in how to keep an audience in the palm of your hand Michaela Coel is top of the form.

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