Today, two different theatrical shows were performed on Poetry&Words stage; ‘Fanboy’ by Joe Sellman-Leava, and ‘Hello I’m Single’ by Lauren McNamara.
How did these very different pieces of drama fair on a predominantly poetry packed place?
My name is Dominic Berry, and here are my reviews…
by Joe Sellman-Leava
I anticipated only light-hearted puns and celebrations of all things geeky in a fun but surface-level hour with Joe. I am a huge fanboy, and have seen many highly enjoyable shows about fandom, and I am very happy to sit and laugh at Star Wars puns where there is little other content. So had that been what I had got, that would have been cool.
You do not need to be a fanboy to love this show. It is hilariously funny, but its inventive, unique, surprising narrative, along with a deeply channelled, concisely articulate emotional core, are universal.
Star Wars forms one of the main analogies here. I do not know much about Star Wars. For all my love of Trek, Super Man, and countless other comics, games and movies, Star Wars has never made an impact on me. Upon discovering what a central theme Star Wars plays in this show, I wondered whether I’d get left behind.
You need know nothing about Star Wars, or any fandom, to get what is going on. I left with with profound thoughts from a show which is as rich in philosophies as it is in funnies.
There is a divisive character in Star Wars, Jar Jar Binks, who receives a great deal of attention during this story. We look at how different fans have reacted to Jar Jar in different ways, and we see how Joe has reacted to him at different ages. Joe’s changing relationship with his feelings on Jar Jar (we get to see videos of a young Joe playing with a birthday toy and these scenes are heart-meltingly innocent and hopeful) matches Joe’s changing relationship with his world, as his hope change with experience.
We get to meet several characters; a girlfriend called Gaia, a close friend called Wayne, and a kind Uncle called Obi, and as Joe gets older, his relationships with these three key figures – and how they each connect to sci fi fandom – are full of honest awareness, wit and massively memorable dialogue.
“How can you be too good?” young Joe asks when told that Superman is an objectively lesser character due to his over-powered qualities and whiter-than-white personality, reducing the conflict in his tales.
Can you be ‘too good’?
It is not just pop culture – we see the aging Joe connecting with climate change, Trump, Brexit, Boris Johnson – and we see Joe try to find a place of belonging and hope in a world increasingly only dealing in absolutes. Surely that conflict is one with which we can all relate?
Joe can do voices! From a rapid-fire recap of all the original Star Wars movies, with immaculate recreating of every character’s voice, to Muppet’s Christmas Carol to Peep Show’s Mitchel & Webb, Sellman-Leava is a stunning impressionist with perfect comic timing. I laughed so much.
“Hate leads to suffering” says Star Wars, and so says Joe, as we see the choices we each get to make on whether we unite or divide during times of strife. Will hope survive?
As we get older, does life in general just get worse and worse (as, some would say, happens with the Star Wars movie series)?
Well, as I find myself in a world increasingly full of anger, blame, cynicism and aggression, Joe Sellman-Leav’s Fanboy most definitely left me with my own ‘new hope’.
HELLO, I’M SINGLE
by Lauren McNamara
From the moment Lauren bounces onto the stage, she is immensely likeable; charming and witty whilst also creating a very safe-feeling space.
The safe space is essential, as pretty much the first thing we get is a piece of audience interaction, with people invited up on stage (no one is made to do anything they don’t wish to do!), and Lauren does this with charisma and sensitivity and bucket-loads of good humour.
It is a great technique to make us quickly get on board with Lauren as a protagonist in a quest to find that all elusive ‘true love’.
Shows about romance are hardly hard to find, so in a genre already full with so many offerings, is there anything about Lauren’s work to make it stand out?
Lots. Lauren plays multiple characters, a central one being her own 93 year old grandmother. The gran is hilarious, yet never played simply for laughs, or in any way which comes across as unbelievable for the sake of a punchline. The gran is eccentric, blunt, but loving, clearly very caring for Lauren as she attempts to track down a partner.
A particularly emotive thing, especially for me as a queer guy, was seeing a 93 year old character shown never expressing any xenophobia or difficulties with her grand-daughter wanting a woman.
This parallels my own real life experience. I am from a small family – pretty much just my mum, my mum’s mum, and me – and mum asked me not to ‘out’ myself to nan, believing the older generation ‘didn’t get it’ and we all simply had to make mega allowances for those who grew up in war time who just had ‘different ways’. Thank goodness, when I did ‘come out’, my nan never had one negative word for me, and continued to love and support me no different to before, for the rest of her life.
That is the relationship shown between Lauren and her (expertly acted) gran, and the absence of even the mention of homophobia was hugely evocative and excellent and made me feel great things in the fact such a story can exist upon our stages these days.
We also meet a number of women Lauren gets to date; Jessica the ambitious journalist, Mary with her dairy farmer father (leading a particularly well delivered calf birthing scene), and Hannah the basketball obsessed visiting American. A common thread is ‘excellent first date / disastrous second date’ and, similar to the portrayal of gran (although the girlfriends are not just played by Lauren, but by a series of small plastic barbie-like dolls, giving McNamara a comedy-gold level of interactions with each of her intendeds) these characters create moments of mirth whilst never being reduced to caricatures.
“When we hug, our bodies fit together like a puzzle piece” says Lauren about one moment with one partner. Lauren’s skills as a poet in a non-poetry show shine in this and many moments of tender and terrifically phrased monologue.
Does Lauren find the love she so deeply desires?
I am not going to spoil the end of this skilfully told tale. I will say that this wonderfully weaving narrative, significantly the developments of events effecting gran towards the end of the show, touch deeply.
I identified with similarities between Lauren and my grandmothers, and equally I identified with the challenges of duality of joy in being held when you need to be held when married with challenging or just incompatible behaviour.
All us us seek and need love. Lauren’s show truly assuredly speaks from the heart with a deft certainty that love is definitely worth continually questing for. The quest is worth its many obstacles, and accomplishing joy is within our reach. In that, each adventurer should have no single doubt.