Deirdre & Me / A Consumer's Dream

A double bill by Rachael Halliwell / Colin Jeffrey
Round Pebble Theatre Company
The Old Red Lion
(2010)

Deirdre & Me publicity photo

Deirdre & Me

The Deirdre of the title is Deirdre Barlow (previously Rachid, previously Barlow, previously Langton and née Hunt), yes, she of Granada's Coronation Street. She, whose wrongful imprisonment in a 1998 storyline had the British public rise up in a campaign to free The Weatherfield One that involved the then Home Secretary and Prime Minister. Not that Tony Blair would ever treat the British legal system with anything less than full respect, perish the thought!

The 'Me' of the title is office worker Susan White, the archetypal Billy-no-mates who is easy prey for soap operas' addictive cliff-hangers and invasive scheduling. She was brought up watching Coronation Street following the events, and Deirdre's persona, with such an intensity that the character became regarded as a member of the family, with the drama of Deirdre's life experienced personally, commented on in detail and committed to memory.

As reality and fiction become jumbled in Susan's mind, a blurring that is reinforced by visits to the television set, not even the mean derision of her colleagues deters Susan from her increasing infatuation with everything Deirdre.

What at first seems just simple-mindedness and Susan's need for a role model and friend takes on sinister overtones as it becomes apparent that Susan is as unable as she is unwilling to differentiate between the fiction of Deirdre and the reality of the actress who plays her.

Deirdre & Me is Rachael Halliwell's first play; it is a considerable achievement and clear why producers Language Laid Bare are taking on the piece for further development. It is touching and funny and Halliwell writes succinctly revealing much about Susan through her commentary on the events in The Street: Blanche's death is nothing less than "a pivotal moment in history". Equally there are dark moments and muted unease as Susan, oblivious to the irony, asks "Who in their right mind would want to watch EastEnders?" as she herself is tipping over the edge.

The serial nature of soaps is hinted at in the structure of the piece with the forty five or so minutes broken into episodes, though the pace at which Susan spirals out of control seemed obscure. Were the narrative allowed to run in longer sequences the impact of the dramatic climax might also have been more shocking than tragically inevitable.

The setting for Deirdre & Me is Susan's shambolic front room, a mess created with an eye for detail which is reflected in Halliwell's performance as Susan under the direction of Louisa Fitzgerald. For a first work this piece is all round quite an accomplishment.

A Consumer's Dream

In this snappy one act Terry lives the environmentally conscious dream: an ambrosial self-sufficient existence, free from low-cost flights, supermarkets and personal loan agreements. That is until two unexpected visitors turn up.

A commercial version of the Gestapo, Daphne and Donald torture, harass and torment Terry in order to show him the error of his ways. Whilst Terry protests that not buying commercial goods does not make him a threat, his persecutors berate him for having no stake in the economy; it is the exercising of the power of the individual and his non-conformity that pose the risk that must be neutralised.

Writer and performer Colin Jeffrey has a great comic talent and together with Nadia Ostacchini achieves real menace very quickly, whilst keeping up a barrage of funny and often sharp one liners. No, they probably don't all bear scrutiny but in an absurd setting they don't have to especially if they are so funny. Their timing is spot on, an intimidating version of the Keystone Cops but with the teamwork of a comic duo such as The Two Ronnies. Their rendition of "Big Spender" is gross and hilarious.

Kevin Mathurin plays the beleaguered Terry balancing disbelief and desparation. He remains grounded in the real whilst his surreal nightmare develops around him. "I am not going to buy things I don't need," he tries to reason. "No," comes the retort, "you buy them because they are there".

Whilst pricking the conscience, this is no lecture. It provides something to think about with humour and without being too uncomfortable - after all, the title and the rolled up duvet on the uncluttered set tell us that Terry will wake up at the end and everything will be alright. Everyone can go back to their consumerist lives without fear as they leave the theatre.

This is a hugely enjoyable piece that runs for a snappy 30 minutes under the direction of Liz Felton who clearly understands the pacing of this slick comedy.

"Deirdre & Me" and "A Consumer's Dream" were presented as a double-bill for one evening

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti