Tracy Beaker Gets Real

Mary Morris, from the novels by Jacqueline Wilson
Nottingham Playhouse production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

After several highly popular television series feisty little misfit Tracy Beaker now appears live on stage, and she makes her presence felt (and heard) from the moment she climbs out of a wheelie bin with an ear piercing scream venting her anger and frustration on whoever happens to be nearest. ‘Boomerang Beaker’ is back in the care home (known to the children as the Dumping Ground) after yet another rejection by the latest foster parents. Are there a few tears? Of course not, not from this tough little cookie. She might have a touch of hay fever though.

Aimed at eleven to thirteen year olds, there were much younger children in the audience and some of the references (to cellulite and behavioural problems) might have gone over their heads, but they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

Sarah Churm is ideally cast as Tracy. She can not only yell, scream and throw tantrums, but the vulnerability and hurt are not too far from the surface as she fantasises about the movie star mother who abandoned her, but will be back as soon as she has time. Churm gives a splendidly volatile, dramatic and emotional performance of a disturbed child looking for love, and so anxious to be accepted that she expects – almost demands - too much too soon.

This is Tracy’s story which she is writing in her journal, and designer Paul Wills, in a simple set of staircase and windows, has imaginatively created backdrops which descend as pages sketched in a book, complete with paper clips, and following the style of Nick Sharratt’s book illustrations.

Wilson wrote her first novel at the age of nine, and from all accounts hasn’t stopped writing since. She has been awarded the OBE for services to literacy in schools, and appeals to her readers (mainly girls) with her understanding of modern children and their problems. Her books sales have even surpassed the Harry Potter series. Happily it seems that none of her readers wish to imitate Tracy, but there is now a whole generation of youngsters determined to emulate the writer and have ambitions to become novelists.

Music, composed by Grant Olding and played by a three piece band, serves to illustrate Tracy’s flights of fantasy and, with lyrics composed by Mary Morris, also highlights the problems of the other children in care as they wait hopefully to be rescued and loved. It also gives the opportunity for Jessica Martin as fantasy mother and real mother (she also doubles as child peacemaker Louise) to give vent to her strong and distinctive voice Alice Redmond is impressive as the confident and calm aspiring writer Cam ready to adopt Tracy, Suzie McGrath evokes sympathy when the father she is expecting fails to arrive, and the care worker, known as Elaine the Pain (Gemma Page) enjoys herself sending up her operatic tones, and giving the children a giggle. Andy Steed as shy Peter was nine year old Lanna’s favourite for his sympathetic friendship with Tracy, but most of all for his funny little dance.

Excellently presented and performed – there is serious subject matter here, but plenty of fun too and the applause and cheers showed the appreciation of the capacity audience – young and old.

Sheila Connor