Exploring TV and film through the medium of theatre seems to be a relatively under-developed topic. Film explores film all too frequently, and film explores live performance now and again with Birdman and Black Swan being two memorable examples. But rarely the opposite way around. Aside from We Need to Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders), it’s hard to remember the last play I saw which took me behind-the-scenes of film or TV, and this leaves Paperback’s new production feeling strangely unique. This is a world and an industry which feels all too familiar, and yet I’ve rarely seen it expressed in this medium before.
We Need to Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders), or Bobby as I’ll refer to it from now on, follows thirteen-year-old Annie as she comes to terms with being a child actor on a very adult show. As her childhood disintegrates around her, Annie is prematurely thrust into the unforgiving limelight, struggling to deal with the real-world implications of her work. It’s a very complicated and nuanced subject to cover, with a number of difficult issues forming the central premise of the production. Luckily, Bobby handles the subjects with ease, delicately striking a balance between disturbing scenes and shying away from the topic. The result is a production intently focused on the development of this core character, rather than aiming for cheap, shock-value scenes. The wise decision is made to allow a lot of the action to happen offstage, focusing on the emotional aftermath rather than unnecessary anguish. An interesting central concept, expanding with well-written characters and an engaging plotline, makes Bobby a tough, but brilliant watch. For this brief but engaging hour, you won’t be able to look away.
“this could have been a superb production, but it failed to stick the landing”
Performances are good all-round, portraying a vast variety of characters between a small cast effectively and clearly. Additionally, the direction and use of a reserved seat in the audience is superb, effectively giving an immersive sense of the TV set, rather than the audience feeling like onlookers. The only criticism I have is the ending. Without spoiling anything, it felt a little contrived and squandered a lot of the slow, bubbling tension which had so carefully built up over the show. Rather than approaching the finale with Bobby’s usual delicacy and care, it seemed to come at it with a sledgehammer, battering the ending into submission. It’s a real shame, since with an electric ending this could have been a superb production, but it failed to stick the landing.
Aside from a small blip towards the end, We Need to Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders) is a considered, thought-provoking look at young performers. Emotionally rich and utterly engrossing, Paperback’s new production is a resounding success.
ZOO Southside, 14th – 28th August 12:40