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Primadonna

Rosie Kellett
Vault Festival

Primadonna

“A willingness to please” seems to be Rosie’s best qualification for the role of PA. Certainly her even-tempered complaisance helps her to endure the unremitting, self-indulgent demands of her self-obsessed (Edina-esque) boss. As Rosie (Rosie Kellett) struggles to fulfil a litany of culinary, travel and shopping needs, she retains an admirable cheeriness in the face of ingratitude, discourtesy and passive aggression.

We begin with some back-story. In an introduction that seems to draw at least partially on autobiography—“I’ve got red hair”, “my dad was in Simply Red—he’s not Mick Hucknall”, “we lived in a big house”—Rosie describes the yearning of her ‘uncool’ school-girl self for the comforts of conformity and commendation. Lacking any vocation, she now has decided to put her Post-it-note efficiency and slick organisation skills to productive use in the modern office.

At interview, she’s not deterred by her inability to tune into her boss’s “vibe”. And, during the remainder of this pacy, one-woman show, Rosie selflessly devotes herself to satisfying her boss’s solipsistic petitions, valiantly negotiating with caterers who think that veganism is an allergy, patiently unravelling complex itineraries, and supplying glitter and green smoothies on demand.

There are a few props to help distinguish who’s who—a pair of outsize sunglasses, a yellow baseball cap, a mixing bowl—but Kellett largely relies on her voice, switching incessantly between roles in convincing, if frenetic, fashion. It’s loud and bright, and the quips are sharp.

One problem, though, is that there’s no context for Rosie’s working life. We have two Ikea racks festooned with office and personal paraphernalia—Starbucks cups, designer shopping bags, hairspray, cacti—but this is little more than a two-dimensional backdrop to Rosie’s slide into disillusionment. There’s no sense of a ‘real world’ and characters teeter on the edge of caricature.

Her mother calls to deliver a breathless harangue culminating in a rebuke for having forgotten her father’s birthday; an old school ‘friend’, approached for help, won’t take her calls. There’s even some audience participation thrown in which, though it provides some laughs, further weakens the integrity of the drama.

Rosie tries to be a martyr. She forgets that she has her own life and becomes overwhelmed, stressed and burnt-out—almost literally, after an incident with a light-bulb results in a black-out. In the quiet darkness we have, at last, a moment of stillness and candour.

It seems that Rosie will finally cast timidity and deference aside and tell it straight to her narcissistic employer. But, no, instead of shining the spotlight on her boss’s gross ego, vulgarity and insensitivity, it is her own lack of self-worth that she bemoans—she feels like a “second-class” sort of person. What Rosie lacks—and what makes a really good PA—is confidence. Without it, she’s never going to be the Prima Donna.

It’s a pity that this opportunity for really honest scrutiny isn’t fully grasped. Rosie inevitably slips back into old routines and the closing scenes become zanier and louder, as the microphone—which in the introduction forged a direct relationship between Rosie and the audience—is now used continuously and indiscriminately, shattering the frame that had been established at the start.

Primadonna is an entertaining and at times piquant play, which reunites Kellett with director Jamie Jackson and designer Anna Reid following their 2015 success with Skint, which won Pick of the Week and Festival Spirit awards. This is the first play Kellett has written: it’s an ambitious monologue which she performs with endearing charm and wit.

I just wish that Rosie could have learned that if she wants to be treated with dignity, she has to learn to respect herself. But, maybe that’s the point. In a culture that venerates over-work and where instant gratification and connectivity are taken for granted, there are no boundaries and people internalise exploitation as the norm.

Reviewer: Claire Seymour