★★★★ Desperately Fabulous

Simon Ward reviews Fame Whore at the King’s Head Theatre

The Urban Dictionary defines a fame whore as ‘[a]n individual who is willing to do anything, regardless of how humiliating or demeaning, to achieve notoriety. More often than not, this involves appearing on multiple reality television shows.’ Writer Tom Ratcliffe and extraordinary star Gigi Zahir (aka Crayola The Queen) appear to have embraced this definition and used it as the engine to drive this high octane, hilarious and touching portrait of Becky Biro.

Photo credit – Charles Flint Photography

Even before the show starts, she totters out from backstage in a sparkly blue dress, huge blue hair and outrageous heels to engage with the audience and pose for selfies. She is an utterly mesmerising presence: disarming and magnetic. When the show proper begins, she unfolds the story of her attempts to be selected to appear on the international hit TV series ‘The Drag Factor’. (Spotting the barely disguised versions of well-known shows and internet sites is an incidental pleasure.) In an interview with the producers, it transpires that Becky, who otherwise would be a good fit for the programme, has been a rather vocal critic of it online. We here get an inkling that Becky’s understanding of and engagement with drag in all its variety goes much deeper than that of the TV team, who are essentially only interested in curating a TV brand for as long as it is profitable. Her tragedy is that she nevertheless still feels the need to be accepted by them. And the price they demand is that she ‘bring something’ to the show, ie a following big enough to make it worth their while. So, she sets out to grow her followers by any means necessary.

A video wall at the back of the stage is used to full effect, whether highlighting social media posts or, in one particularly funny scene, recreating the infamous parish council meeting that brought Jackie Weaver to fame, complete with ‘Julies ipad’ and standing orders. It is unfortunate that this can only be fully appreciated by the seats right in the centre of what is not a very large room. Despite the best efforts of the lead performer, the show in general is directed too much towards the portion of the audience in the front rows, a common problem in fringe venues, but one which needs to be considered more often. In this case, it seems to me that the show is rather cramped in a venue this size – it would really flourish on a bigger stage. Becky Biro is definitely ready to increase her following and the songs which are used to such good effect to satirise the social media industry and the disturbing ways in which people can be manipulated by the online world deserve a wider audience, especially when delivered with such panache by our heroine.

Photo credit – Charles Flint Photography

Minor criticisms notwithstanding, this is an exhilarating experience, but also a thought-provoking one. Becky reveals a vulnerability and fragility underneath the layers of makeup and glamour, and faces up to challenging questions about identity, belonging, acceptance and love. If social media acceptance is everything she craves, what effect does it have if she doesn’t get it? Is she strong enough to cope? I really hope so.

Fame Whore is playing at The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN until 29th October.

Categories: review

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