Hot on the heels of the recent television documentary Framing Britney Spears, this collaboration from Fake Escape and the Old Red Lion Theatre is a prologue for a live show opening in the Islington space in mid-May.
It opens with a shadow puppet introduction which made me think back to the Barbie dolls which populated the film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), although the words were borrowing heavily from Romeo and Juliet. This tells, very quickly, the story of the rise of Britney Spears from a child artist to a woman who is denied her financial and professional independence.
As a one-woman show, Saving Britney: Prologue focuses on Shereen Roushbaiani as Jean, a moderator on a Britney Fan Group. She is around thirty-years old, seems to populate a room full of Britney memorabilia (a stunning set by Charles Flint of pictures, typed out lyrics, CDs, etc.), and is about to broadcast to the world via a Facebook Live stream.
Through Jean’s video, we learn quite a bit about how she perceives Britney Spears and her career – specifically the ‘lost’ album Ordinary Doll, which was blocked from release by her label in 2005. This was a darker piece of work than those which had preceded it, as the cancelled single Mona Lisa attests, and perhaps indicated Britney’s own state of mind at the time.
Saving Britney: Prologue covers a lot of ground in fifty minutes and is very brave in the way it discusses many key topics that not only affect this hugely powerful and popular performer, but also those who revere her. It touches on cyberbullies, depression, the male gaze, #MeToo, and our fascination with celebrity culture.
Fan bases have always been on the fanatical side even in the days of paper fanzines. As the online space continues to grow and diversify the need to innovate, compete, and dissect whatever is going on around us places tension on celebrities and their followers. Jean comes across as needy and easily rattled, so we keep some concern for her after the show ends. How does she cope when she switches off?
The Facebook Live structure allows for an equally detailed virtual set by Flint to overlay Roushbaiani’s performance on the Old Red Lion stage: you see comments pop up which underline how men can try to control the narrative online as well as in the real world, you can see other ‘watched’ groups, emoji’s, and more.
Directed by David Shopland, who co-devised the show with Roushbaiani, Saving Britney: Prologue is as vulnerable as its subject. The tale of a woman trapped in teenage fandom, finding purpose as a curator and protector of Britney’s legacy, is well-performed.
Where it doesn’t quite succeed yet is in the depth of characterisation which is needed to get to know the women behind the Facebook broadcast, but when the full show opens in May I am sure we will get to hear much more. This is an amuse bouche, a starter, a snack to plug a gap and to set the scene.
Saving Britney: Prologue streams at https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/saving-britney-prologue from 5th – 25th April 2021.
Reviewer: Louise Penn
Reviewed: 7th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★