Britney Spears was a titanic pop phenomenon. That’s a concrete fact, if you were a fan or a puzzled observer. Whether it was shrugging off the Lolita vibes of the ‘Baby One More Time’ video or sniggering when she shaved her head in a psychotic episode, we were all complicit in the making and breaking of Britney.
In 2007, Chris Cocker went viral with a YouTube plea to ‘Leave Britney Alone’. In many ways, the appeal was a canary down the mine for the media intrusion that ensued. Incidentally, Cocker evolved into a very able gay porn star, and then after a stab at cinema and pop stardom, transitioned, and is now known as Cara Cunningham. As Britney would say, ‘Work Bitch’.
The Free Britney movement grew from a semi-jokey meme in 2009, to a full-blown, bona fide campaign juggernaut. The world woke up after the Framing Britney Spears doc. Suddenly, we felt collectively filthy for years of prurient sneering and acting like slack-jawed villagers with pitchforks.
It’s into this Toxic arena that David Shopland and Shereen Roushbaiani’s Saving Britney lands on stage like a fallen sequin from a dancer’s leotard. It’s an intimate, personal jaunt into the life of a superfan called Jean. Shereen Roushbaiani steers this one-woman show with a mix of naive cheer, fragility and infectious enthusiasm.
Saving Britney charts the dizzying career of La Spears, but mostly, it’s concerned with the emotional journey of a woman called Jean, from giddy young girl to stressed teen with ADHD, family trauma and queries around her sexuality. It also serves as an amusing romp through ‘90s nostalgia.
‘I was always a CD:UK girl. Top of the Pops can go fuck itself,’ she quips, swigging from a bottle of Hooch.
The fact that Jean is occasionally wearing, with her squealy pop obsession and glib optimism gives the show credible weight. As the show highlights, fundamentalist ‘stans’ are an awkward and alarming by-product of the slurry of celebrity culture and social media narcissism.
Saving Britney lacks glam outfits, slick choreo or a Grammy grabbing stage set, but the simplicity keeps us focussed on the truth, a woman’s painful odyssey to maturity. Towards the conclusion, Jean ruefully observes that as a fan, she’d felt indisputably on Britney’s team, but also, she was ‘one of the bars on her cage’.
You don’t have to be a Britney afficionado to enjoy this show, it’s about growing up and facing yourself, and let’s face it, that’s something we all ought to do.
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 21st April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★