Written by Mhairi Grealis, directed by Mary Swan and performed by Ashley Christmas, Becoming Hattie is a story which understands women. It knows about not being able to zip up that dress, about standing in the corner of the party on your own for hours, about feeling self-conscious when you eat your ice cream in the park. It knows all of this, and it sympathises, and then it gives you a big hug.
Jo is an actress, following in the footsteps of her lifelong heroine, Hattie Jacques. She is bright, bubbly and talented…so why does she always end up being cast as the cleaner? Why is she never Juliet? Or even Lady Macbeth? And could it be that Hattie herself, despite her popularity and success, suffered similar discrimination?
Segueing effortlessly between the poised Hattie and the excitable Jo, Ashley Christmas tells the story of these two remarkable women, fighting for recognition in an industry which is famously unforgiving to women. Both are extremely loveable in their different ways, making their struggles and failures painful to watch. Jo, in particular, refuses to give up. “No more tabards!” she roars. As she auditions for the roles of her dreams, her face shines with hope, even as door after door is slammed in her face. “You’ll let me know? Great!” But of course, they never do. “Don’t fat women have husbands? Children? Lives?” asks Jo, after yet another rejection. Sadly, as Jo’s neighbour points out, people want to watch pretty girls.
Both ladies, despite their resolute ebullience, have their moments of self-doubt and sadness. Jo is handed a fat-shaming note on the underground, which she bravely hands to an audience member to rip up, but which brings tears of humiliation to her eyes. Hattie, meanwhile, recounts a heart-breaking tale of mockery on the beach.
There are also moments of great comedy, lots of them. Jo’s caustic agent, Cinda, sweeps flamboyantly in and out of her story, trailing insults, cajolery and her destructive son Aslan in her wake. Hattie’s interactions with the various eccentric members of her entourage are a joy. A lot of the humour is bittersweet; even while you are laughing, you can feel the pain behind the smiles. That’s what makes it work, that’s what makes us care. We like these women, we are proud of them for aiming for the stars, we feel that they are our friends. As both women Ashley addresses and involves the audience directly, gazing into our eyes, making us understand. We are saddened, and angry on behalf of larger women everywhere.
It is a clever and delicate balance, which only tips over right at the very end, as Jo embarks on a rant. And what a rant it is – furious, repetitive and lengthy; suddenly we are no longer complicit confidantes, we are being harangued, lectured. It’s a shame, as it destroys some of the sympathy which has so carefully been built up over the course of the play.
Overall, however, Becoming Hattie is a delight. It is significant, entertaining, informative and beautifully crafted. Ashley Christmas’ portrayal of both ladies, using a simple set and minimal props, is a work of art and her energy is infectious and heart-warming. A real treat.
Review by Genni Trickett
It’s 1974 and 8-year old Jo is snuggled up on the settee idly glancing at the telly when there, on the screen, is a woman unlike anyone Jo has ever seen on TV.
That woman is Hattie Jacques.
Forty years later, and Jo has followed Hattie’s footsteps; she too is an actress, but why does she only get cast as the nurse, never the surgeon? Has nothing changed for women like Jo since Hattie did Carry On?
Thoughtful, funny, warm and nostalgic, this one woman show is an affectionate look at the life and career of a remarkable woman and a witty, caustic look at modern life in show business.
at The Lounge
Running Time 90 minutes
Age Recommendation 15+
Booking to 28th May 2016