Performer, Concept, Script and Choreography: Lorraine Smith
Do you remember when you listened to music at full volume, either through oversized headphones, or when your parents were out of the house (and you had the stereo volume control all to yourself) and your favourite songs contained lyrics which told of recognizable and relatable stories you honestly believed were written just for you and based on your own personal coming of age stories. Stories of all the emotional firsts in a young person’s life. First loves, first heart aches, first struggles with popularity and trying to fit in, first time you were bullied/harassed because you were different; but didn’t know why, or the first questions you had about your own sexuality.
Then you my friend, are one of the lucky ones that have a soundtrack to your life and will totally understand, relate to and get why choreographer, and performance artist, Lorraine Smith chose to tell the stories of the early years of their life accompanied by the musical timeline and life of one of the 1980’s most prominent and groundbreaking female pop icons.
Your reviewer purposely does not research any performance they have been asked to review before seeing it so as not to be influenced in anyway about any part of the show. With a title like You Can Take Me Home Toni, anything could have appeared on the stage of the very modern, new and comfortable 170 seat theatre of the St John’s University Creative Centre. And it did.
In this one person show, which combined elaborate costumes, music and dance like a perfectly balanced three-part harmony to tell the creators personal life story, the Toni referred in the title turns out to be Antonia Christina Basilotta, better known as Toni Basil of Hey Mickey fame. Luckily, for all of us Hey Mickey fans, this was the first song performed to by Lorraine and got the whole show off to a good start. Not to have done so would have caused a minor riot, I’m sure.
Lorraine Smith uses her childhood obsession with Toni Basil’s original music, visual storytelling, dance movements and powerful female personality, most of which Smith found encapsulated in Toni’s 1981 Word of Mouth video album, as a prompt for the idea of telling all the good, the bad and the ugly bits of their own story of the struggles they faced in finding out who they really are and becoming very much OK with it.
The good bits were good, the bad bits were survivable, and the ugly bits of Smith’s life i.e., sexual assault, bullying, homophobia and body shaming depicted in the show very much warranted the trigger warnings announced at the opening of the performance and in its marketing. This is not a show for the under 16s!
The appearance of Lorraine Smith on stage in beautifully designed and detailed costumes such as a full body sized vagina, a suit made out of fake boobs and what is surely the largest merkin every created, makes it even more of an adult only performance. They weren’t as rude as one might expect, and all worked very well when combined with Smith’s easy flowing dance movements to visually tell the story of how they perceived the changing and maturing of their own body and their perception of the shame that went along with this. This reviewer didn’t see so much personal shame in what Smith was attempting to depict on stage, but more the strength and determination of someone who will not let others determine how they see themselves and overcame many personal struggles to do so.
One other feature of this performance was the sign language interpreter, Caroline Ryan, who played their part in telling the story so convincingly and enthusiastically that this reviewer found himself, on more then one occasion, just watching her sign and listening to the on-stage dialogue.
There is a huge personal, professional and emotional risk in creating a show about one’s own very personal and private life story and only the bravest of performers will take up the challenge of hanging it all out on the backyard clothesline for all to see. Thankfully, there are people like Lorraine Smith who will, and some will be better off for it. But as she said during the after-show Q&A, “At this point in my life, I’m too f-ing old to care what people think about me anyway”.
Reviewed on 8th November 2023.