Thursday 23 May 2024

Stage: Living on-camera

Piece of Me
by Claire Gaydon
with Claire Gaydon, Yasser Zadeh, Alex Roberts
director Eleanor Crouch • songs Claire Gaydon
music producer James Jacob
designer Charlotte Espiner • lighting Amy Daniels
choreo Seke Chimutengwende, Olivia Shouler
Camden People's Theatre • 21.May-1.Jun.24

With a hilariously deadpan sense of humour, this thought-provoking musical comedy drama springs from the life of writer-performer Claire Gaydon, which adds an unusually personal touch to the rather offbeat juxtaposition of pop stardom and social surveillance. It's a brightly energetic 70-minute show that holds the attention with its wry observations and almost pathologically catchy tunes, then turns into something darkly intriguing. 

The story opens on 8-year-old Claire (Gaydon), who lives in Lincoln and hangs out with her best pals Natalie (Zadeh) and Chloe (Roberts). Then Britney Spears' first mega-hit rocks their world. Diehard fans, they live vicariously through her stardom, and decide they need to be popstars themselves. So Claire writes a song, and they become celebrities in their school when they perform at an assembly and record a demo. But the band fizzles out when they're 14. Years later, they reunite to perform at a London venue, and Claire's obsession with CCTV cameras leads them to launch their own facial recognition company.

This last turn of events feels like it comes from nowhere, drastically changing the play's tone. Earlier scenes are punctuated with snappy video montages and elaborately choreographed musical performances, complete with complex lighting and costume changes. Then the final section sees these three childhood friends in an office discussing the nature of their work, differing in their opinions about video surveillance and data mining. But there is a fascinating thread here, as this springs from their conversations about how Britney has lived even the most private moments of her life in the full public glare.

The characters are skilfully performed by this tight trio. Gaydon cleverly nails Claire's intense enthusiasm alongside the dryly amusing Zadeh and Roberts, who bring terrific textures as the open-handed Natalie and sassy Chloe. Zadeh also plays DJ Andy, who happily joins the band when he can. The actors create infectious chemistry on stage that makes the characters both laugh-out-loud funny and also deeply endearing.

Gaydon's observations are often astonishing, comparing CCTV with paparazzi while offering brief blasts of lacerating social satire. The show is quick and clever, and also both wry and raucous. And in several meta moments it digs beneath the surface to question the nature of fame and privacy, the true meaning of success and the way politics almost always leads to manipulation. It's also so much fun that we want to see this band put on a full concert.


photos by Harry Elletson • 23.May.24

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