Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Pramface

Written and performed by Lizzie Hopley
Presented by Warehouse Theatre Company, Critical Mass and Eleanor Lloyd
Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
(2007)

Publicity photo

Already winner of a British Council Plat du Jour Award, this play, which was developed through workshops in Southwark schools, sets out to satirize the media-led world of gossip magazines, reality shows, makeovers, cosmetic surgery and instant celebrity. It is a one-woman show that runs for just about one hour.

Writer Lizzie Hopley has given herself as performer, already on stage when the audience comes in, the challenge of sustaining our interest in a piece that takes a long time to disclose its plot and gives her no other characters to interact with, except on her mobile. At the performance I saw, with a very thin house peopled largely by critics, if one could judge by the number of notepads, she succeeded only because she never let up for a moment.

Pramface is a girl, a female chav - a chavette. The word is used, apparently, to identify someone whose looks are 'more suited to pushing a pram round a housing estate'. This girl is obsessed with celebrities, not any single one but all those faces in the gossip magazines. She takes the lot - piled in their hundreds around and on a metal desk, along with boxes of Cheerios, from which she snacks from time to time. They form the set designed by director Sarah Chew.

Pramface doesn't seem to be interested in her celebs' lives. She just cuts out photographs and sticks them in her many scrap books under headings she invents to match different looks.

Which faces fit being 'celebrities'? Which don't? Was that the problem for her neighbour, young Danny Wells? Up for Star Search, a TV talent show like Pop Idol, not only has he been chucked out as lacking the 'It Factor' but a magazine has labelled him as 'Arcade face' - no celeb he, his face is more suited to playing slot machines in penny arcades.

Slipping off Pramface's jacket Hopley also plays the pretentiously overdressed editor responsible. (The setting's metal desk is part of her life, not Pramface's.) We see her bullying an editorial meeting and on the telephone to 14-year old Danny's mother after he has slashed his face and cut out his tongue, gaining celebrity of a kind. She pretends concern but wants a ghoulish story.

Pramface doesn't seem to get on with the neighbour in the flat beneath, she periodically turns up her radio to remind her not to overdo the noise down there. It is only slowly that we realise it is not a neighbour but the journalist herself, kidnapped and kept imprisoned after being got there with the bait of an interview. It was Pramface pretending to be Danny's mother Cherie who had been on the phone.

It is a nice little twist and, of course, it is good to see the exploiting media get their come-uppance - but what happens next? The play ends before it has to face that problem.

What Hopley does do is make us accept Pramface on her own terms. We don't get a chance to find her funny, the performance is so relentlessly in-yer-face. Even the journalist, though more of a caricature, is so out of her depth and living by knee-jerk reaction in her media world that it she more sad than comic.

At an hour long, this piece holds; but that is about as long as it could do so. I can't help wondering what was discovered at those Southwark workshops: it doesn't give us much illumination on either character's life. It never gives us a confrontation. The issues it raises are left to us to think about: the play does not explore them.

I can see why it had such a success in Edinburgh. Rushing from venue to venue and packing in as many shows as possible, Hopley's attack would seem even more forceful and refreshing, especially when set against an increasing proportion of stand up comics at the Festival and on the Fringe. The tendency to shorter and shorter plays, especially when one-person shows, is making the play move much closer to revue sketch and the stand-up and too often reducing both content and storytelling.

If you are close to the Warehouse, or wherever else it may be playing in future, it is worth your attention but probably not really worth the effort of crossing from the other side of London to see it unless you are as theatre obsessed as I am.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton