REVIEW: Superstar (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★
Nicola Wren’s one-woman autobiographical show, draws on her life as her family’s mistake – the fifth and final child, conceived by accident and sent on a never-ending quest to gain her older siblings approval. This could easily have been self-indulgent but is in fact clever, sharply observed and a side-splittingly funny.
After a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Wren has rightly earned a transfer to London and certainly this show deserves to be seen by anyone who needs distracting from their own lives and wants to enjoy someone else’s emotional pain for a change.
Wren takes us on a journey from her conception, and entering the stage dressed as a sperm is definitely a strong opening, to her early steps onto the stage, as a bunny in panto, to her move to London to become an actor and finally her decision to write her own show. All the while, the spectre of her relationships with her three older brothers and older sister looms large and she must come to terms with her need for their affection if she is to be successful in her attempt to become the Superstar she knows she is destined to be. Of course, she is not helped by the fact that her oldest brother, Christopher, is an actual superstar, and turns up to see Wren’s performance of Mole in Wind in the Willows, just after his band, Coldplay, has become a big thing and his new girlfriend is a little known American actor called Gwyneth Paltrow.
The story is told with fantastic energy and pathos by Wren, she understands that her over-dramatic nature and desire to make everything about herself is a rich vein of comedy to be ruthlessly tapped and is clever enough to make sure her own performance is fantastically over the top. Whilst the writing is funny in itself, its Wren’s striking performance that leaves the audience roaring with laugher. Each pained look in response to a rejection is a joy, and her physical contortions in reaction to any music by Coldplay are absolutely priceless.
Director Sadie Spencer and designer Cara Evans wisely give Wren the space to indulge herself and make the most of her physicality. The set is a clear space adorned by the imagined trappings of showbiz and a clothes rail that holds the costumes for Wren to relive her career highlights. Movement director Louisa Beadel seems to have encouraged Wren to move playfully and expressively, including a fantastic interpretation of a Berocca.
At the heart of Wren’s story is a straightforward family drama but the impact of fame means nothing is simple and Wren is caught in the wake, trying to decide if she wants to be considered as an artist or simply famous. Based on this brilliantly funny play maybe Wren deserves to be a little bit of both.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington
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