Saving Britney – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writers: David Shopland and Shereen Roushbaiani

Director: David Shopland

And we’re back. Live, in-person performances are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. After a tough period where creative theatremakers poured themselves into digital and online productions with varying rates of success, a live audience in front of a performer is once more possible. Saving Britney could have been one of those that fell through the cracks. However, while it was slated to be staged before a lockdown prevented it, a “prologue” for the show was streamed in April, and the full production now comes to life.

It’s a deeply intimate portrait of a woman and the imagined links and parallels she thinks she has with her idol Britney Spears. Jean from Cirencester (played by Shereen Roushbaiani) was born on the same day as the singer (though eight years apart), and from there the two have somehow generated over 120 other co-incidental links that convince Jean they’re bonded by fate. The “relationship” she has with Spears takes her through her parents’ marriage falling apart, bullying at school, her dad’s growing alcoholism, her own sexual awakening and her early adult life in London. It’s a fandom that grows closer to obsession over time, before helping her finally reach a point where she can go it alone.

It’s a satisfying 70 minutes of unfolding revelations – a device of using a familiar story to open up something more personal and intimate. There are big ideas, personal and profound, contained within this production, though a few threads of ideas present themselves along the way, only to be left hanging. Asides to the audience which reference 90’s pop culture are fun for the most part, but is there also a quick mention of sitting on an older man’s knee when she was younger during a section about her difficulties with boys? Seems a large element to gloss over in such a personal story. Equally, her drinking on stage – a heritage from her father, perhaps, all but ignored in an otherwise rich ending sequence.

Roushbaiani’s confident performance buzzes with kinetic energy,  moving, stretching, dancing, sprawling on the floor. The physicality is a fascinating way of bringing us into Jean’s life and pays off as we watch her every swerve for signs of her emotional state.

The play goes fast, and covers much personal ground for Jean and Britney. The ultimate revelation for the Cirencester girl has a pleasing depth. Although, recognising that, are we as an audience to a show that uses Spears to tell someone else’s story complicit as the fans, the courts, and even the producers here of using Britney for our own ends? Perhaps it’s going overboard to abstract it to that extreme, but the cages built for our most ubiquitous celebrities are an intriguing concept and one explored intelligently in this production. Equally smartly done is the storytelling of Jean’s growth from child to adult; a well balanced and enjoyable journey.

Runs until 5 June 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Intriguing mix of public and private stories.

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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