Review: Call Me Vicky at The Pleasance

Based on a true story, Call Me Vicky is the debut play from sisters Nicola and Stacey Bland, following Vicky (Matt Greenwood) – born Martin – in her fight to transition and become the woman she’s always known herself to be. With the support of a loving circle of friends and family, she’s been scraping together the money for her op by working at Soho drag club The Golden Girl, which for all its seediness is one of the few places she can truly be herself free of judgment. Because this is London in the 1980s, and the wider society in which Vicky lives is far less accepting.

Photo credit: Fabio Santos

This warm, witty one-act play is often a lot of fun (there’s a hilarious drag routine that has to be seen to be believed) but don’t be fooled, it’s also a brutally honest account of Vicky’s world and the challenges she has to overcome just to be herself. Drugs, prostitution, prejudice and shocking violence all feature prominently – in fact, the only thing that’s glamorous about this story is Vicky’s fabulous outfits. Matt Greenwood is excellent in the lead role, capturing the character’s sassiness and defiance but also her intense vulnerability, and her generosity; despite her own problems, Vicky never loses sight of the fact that those around her may be struggling too, and her relationship with Stacey Bland’s troubled single mum Gabby is particularly moving.

Among universally strong performances from the cast of six, Wendi Peters is wonderful as Vicky’s no-nonsense mum Sylvie, whose fierce defence of her child against a stranger’s prejudice is one of the play’s most powerful scenes. And Ben Welch gives a brilliantly outrageous comedy performance as drag queen Fat Pearl, though as the play goes on we realise even this apparently one-dimensional character has hidden depths.

Victoria Gimby’s production is cleverly and immersively staged in a theatre that’s been transformed into The Golden Girl, right down to a stamp on the hand as you enter. With the action primarily taking place in two settings – the club and Vicky’s home – the versatile set, designed by Martha Hegarty (also responsible for the aforementioned fabulous outfits), is quickly and easily transformed so the action can continue to flow seamlessly. There are, however, a few issues with sightlines for audience members sitting at either end of the theatre, with some scenes blocked from view almost entirely by the curtain concealing the Golden Girl stage.

Photo credit: Fabio Santos

Call Me Vicky is a play that creeps up on you. Because most of the early action is set in spaces where Vicky feels at home, the events that take place in the second half of the play catch us completely off guard, and serve as a shocking reminder of what so many trans people have had to go through just to feel accepted. There are a number of moments where you feel Vicky might quite justifiably choose to give up on her transition; the fact that she never does only increases our admiration for her courage and resilience – and should also silence any suggestion that it’s a decision she’s taken lightly. A powerful, eye-opening debut from Nicola and Stacey Bland, Call Me Vicky is well worth a watch.

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