We Need to Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders)

George Attwell Gerhards

Paperback

ZOO Southside

From 14 August 2017 to 28 August 2017

Rating: ***

Review by Amy Yorston

The fame game is a seemingly never-ending source of theatrical material with shows reimagining the life stories of legends, parodying reality stars and lampooning X Factor wannabes. Plenty tackle the despair of a career on the slide but few tackle the downsides of rising fame—particularly through the eyes of a child.

We Need to Talk About Bobby (Off Eastenders) doesn’t actually contain any Eastenders references but the parallels are clear; on this imagined gritty drama, the child star is key, carrying a major storyline and all associated pressure, acting in a world of grown ups in which the make believe is brutal.

Annie is an experienced child actress and loves having fun on sets for adverts and kids' shows. At the tricky age of 12, however, she can no longer purely fill the cute criteria and branches out, auditioning for more meaty mainstream parts.

Winning a leading role on a new prime time drama is a massive step forward but she quickly finds herself missing home, being cosseted like a child but expected to work on set as fast and professionally as the adults. The juxtaposition gives rise to insecurity and ego, frustration and bravado.

Whilst Annie remains a constant, the two other cast members swiftly multirole from parents to casting directors, co-stars to crew. The decision to place them in the audience whilst ‘filming’ is taking place adds nicely to Annie’s overwhelming situation as their voices shout direction from the darkness.

There is effort here to give the characters real depth but the script is hampered by the constraints of a fringe time slot. Over two acts, there would have been the possibility of a real slow burn, showing Annie’s temperament very gradually changing and with more attention given to the relationship of her parents and agent.

As it stands, this is a well-measured glimpse into the topic of child fame as she moves from an excited 12-year-old to a world-weary teenager. The hard edges of the unforgiving industry are demonstrated clearly by the committed cast and the script poses questions about consent and societal expectation that are well worth musing on.

Her descent to troubled teen is a believable one, however the climax is worthy of an Eastenders "duff duff". Rather an overstatement for a play that otherwise comfortably simmers.