Home / Drama / Unhappy Birthday – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Unhappy Birthday – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Writer: Amy Lame

Director: Scottee

Reviewer: Kat Pope


unhappybirthdayIt’s fair to say that Amy Lame is more than slightly Morrissey obsessed. In fact, the great Mancunian Quiff seems to have positively taken over her life. “It’s 1982, the year the world began, and the year I started my period,” booms Lame portentiously.

What follows is a queasy mix of stage show, performance art and a manic, frenetic birthday party to which everyone in the audience is invited. No, not quite invited; your involvement is demanded, so be warned from the outset that if you loathe the sort of show where you sit trying to make yourself invisible so the performer won’t pick on you, you may feel a tad uncomfortable at this one as Lame doesn’t so much involve the audience; she smears them with it big time.

We run through a medley of Smiths songs while Lame runs through her adolescence, with us sitting round the walls of the theatre space, playing a game of Pass the Parcel. Whoever ends up with the parcel each time, of course, has a surprise in store. I had one of my own which involved mixing up Eau de Morrissey (I stank of hair wax, milk and lager all the way home).

There’s a lot of face-stuffing, with cakes and burgers, and a lot of party popper-pulling, but mostly Lame bounces round the room like a sort of worrisome puppy, chivvying us all to enjoy ourselves and getting miffed if we don’t appear to be. “Are you having F.U.N?” she asks one guy repeatedly. He nods back, petrified. But most of us are (petrified AND having fun), as she’s a genial host, a child made hyper by sugary cakes and quiffs, but one older woman sits in the corner unsmiling. I feel for her.

But there’s a darker side to all this. A vein of self-loathing runs through the show. A set of scales is produced and used flippantly, but you get the real picture. After we all stand and recite the Moz Blessing led by Lame in priest’s vestments, one of Morrissey’s more recent controversial statements is read out by a member of the audience and a hush falls. We see Lame’s love slipping, her dedication waning, herself growing up.And then we all dance to This Charming Man and everything is better, everything is back to like it was at the very beginning – isn’t it?

There are problems with this show though, the main one being that as an audience member you’re so caught up in worrying about whether you’re going to get picked on that it’s difficult to concentrate to register the nuances of the piece. It’s only on reflection that they appear.

The other, related, is the way Lame takes liberties with her audience. This reviewer is no squeamish bunny when it comes to the theatre, but even she baulked at some of the physical contact Lame makes during the show. It was audacious, yes, but at times it bordered on an invasion of space. Lipstick-smearing and boob rubbing are perhaps a step too far. Or am I just showing my age?

Runs until 1st June (except Mondays)

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