‘We Need to Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders)’ is among the first works by Paperback, a Birmingham-based theatre company composed of Warwick graduates. Charting the decline of a young TV actress, George Atwell Gerhard’s debut play explores the damage that is done to twelve-year old Annie’s psyche when she is placed in a role that forces her to confront the disturbing side of adulthood.
As Annie faces the trials and tribulations adolescence brings, combined with her role in a TV show that disturbs the audience even in the brief glimpses we see in the play, the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur. Her consequent mental deterioration provides the play’s dark narrative.
The play explores the damage that is done to Annie’s psyche when she is placed in a role that forces her to confront the disturbing side of adulthood
Tara Embers successfully tackles the difficult task of depicting Annie’s journey from a happy and eager child to a depressed actress savaged by the media. Her strong performance helps the audience understand the girl’s plight as she is made to experience events that no child, or adult, should have to endure. The two other actors, Tom Bulpett and Sophie Portaway, each play multiple characters, alternating between different identities including Annie’s parents, directors and make-up artists.
However, these characters are far from lacking depth despite the time constraints of the play and the absence of costume changes. Bulpett and Portaway do exceptionally well in making each character unique in their own right, and their ability to flit between the characters effortlessly and clearly through accents and behavioural changes is outstanding.
Tara Embers’ strong performance helps the audience understand the girl’s plight as she is made to experience events that no child, or adult, should have to endure
Despite the disconcerting content, the play is infused with humour: the blunt directors that tell it exactly how it is; the amusing awkwardness as Annie’s parents try to explain the content of her upcoming role; and Annie’s own mistakes as she fumbles her way through the adult world. In a play which confronts uncomfortable questions about the world of media and child stars, the intermittent comedy provides much-needed relief.
The troubling content of the play and the trauma experienced by Annie is emphasised through the sparse set and lighting. The props are minimal and the core set stays static throughout, focusing the entirely of the audience’s attention upon the actors and the story they tell. The lighting is also kept to a minimum, although it’s nevertheless effective in changing from being warm and gentle in scenes where Annie is at home to harsher, more direct light when she is faced with intense and distressing filming.
The few plays in the play are not of its own making; rather, they arise from the faults of the Fringe format
The few flaws there are in the play are not of its own making; rather, they arise from the faults of the Fringe format. Productions at the festival are often much shorter than typical student shows, and whilst at an hour and five minutes the play does an admirable job of giving depth to the characters and storyline, an extra half an hour or so would have allowed the audience to connect even more with Annie’s situation and the resulting struggles.
‘We Need to Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders)’ is another prime example of the brilliant drama offered by past and present Warwick students. The acting is superb, as is necessary for a play of such disquieting material. The power of the production, as well as the questions raised by Atwell Gerhard in the script, linger in the audience’s mind long after the performance is over.
Tickets for Paperback’s We Need to Talk about Bobby can be bought here: