Up Next is a new event series showcasing exciting new work from Merseyside performers and following the success of her previous show Heaven or Pussy, Victoria Oxley stepped up with her new musical-themed comedy Stayin’ Alive.
Written by and starring Oxley, and with directorial input from Gemma Bodinetz who introduced the piece tonight, it follows the story of Maggie (Oxley) as she confronts her mental health problems and the loss of her grandmother, with support from Emma Bispham reading in other roles including Maggie’s mother, her sister Ann-Marie, and therapist Rob.
Drawing on Oxley’s real-life relationship with her grandmother and her own work as a mentor for young people with mental health difficulties, this was a powerful piece of work that in its opening lines managed to blow me away whilst at the same time restoring my belief in the power of theatre to give voice to characters that many of us do not see or sadly choose not to.
Oxley’s Maggie narrates, steps nonchalantly in and out of scenes, and comfortably breaks the fourth wall as we are confronted with both the light laughter and darkness of her inner demons. There is a delicate balance in getting that right where many a playwright has fallen short but here Oxley excels and her attention to detail in capturing Maggie’s behavioural mannerisms really brought home her plight. The musical interlude was relevant and necessary and wonderfully performed in character which is a skill in its own right.
The simplest of sets was cleverly used allowing the words and performance to take us with ease from club to home to self-help group to therapy room, with believable dialogue that engaged us at every turn whether it be that laugh out loud episode or the poignancy of a heartfelt moment when you could feel the despair in a piece that touched upon sensitive and difficult topics, often overlooked or misunderstood, and more than did them justice in a world full of injustice. It also emphasises the importance for any writer of knowing your subject matter because irrespective of the audiences’ knowledge, the credibility will always be evident in the writing. There were no such concerns tonight.
Bispham moved with ease between her various roles with an adjustment in voice and posture taking us along seamlessly, and bearing in mind her late addition, there was an effortless chemistry between her in her many guises and Oxley, underlining her all-round professional skill. The scenes between Maggie and Rob brought to mind Willie Russell’s Rita and Frank in Educating Rita but the words were most definitely Oxley’s and a delight to hear.
Yes there are some rough edges to polish but that is the purpose of bringing this production to the fore and I am excited to see where it goes next: Oxley has a natural talent and shone brightly tonight through her dialogue and performance, and with the likes of Bodinetz and Bispham to support and guide her, I look forward to seeing what she does next: she certainly brightened up my day.
Performed live at Unity Theatre, this is part of Unity’s Open Call and supported by Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. It was also refreshing to see tonight’s production being signed. https://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 18th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★