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Call Me By My Name by Nicole Botha | Review

Call Me By My Name by Nicole BothaI went for a job at my local council many years ago. I was, on paper, a good enough candidate to be seen at interview but it quickly became apparent that my previous experience with people in business centres and university administration was far removed from the sort of people the council’s staff find themselves dealing with. In this show, Comfort (Nicole Botha), a community outreach officer at her own local council, takes a call from someone who launches into a volley of verbal abuse.

I was told that an abusive caller should be given three chances to be more civilised before the call is calmly terminated. If the person were to call back and continue to be abusive, the call would be escalated to management. Not so for Comfort, whose services are promptly dispensed with even though she was the recipient of coarse language and personal insults. Comfort’s story thereafter is straightforward enough to follow, at least at face value – her flatmate Becky (Sabira Stanisavljevic) is supportive, while Mark (Joseph O’Gorman), previously unknown to Comfort, spots her sat outside on a bench (possibly at a bus stop) and promptly asks her out.

This, then, is a way in for a subplot, about Mark’s less than impeccable credentials and how contrasting they are with Comfort’s own values. The use of social media to advance the narrative is credible (alas, to provide further particulars would be giving too much away), and Comfort’s story is peppered throughout with plenty of poetry and performance art. Much of this is centred around various social issues affecting young women of colour in London today, and it becomes evident that some of the difficulties Comfort and others like her experience relate to their gender as well as their ethnicity.

Occasionally, the background music accompanying the poetry is somewhat overdone: much, if not all of the verses are weighty enough to be delivered ‘raw’, without any music at all. There is practically nothing in the way of comic relief from the multiple issues discussed, and sometimes more questions are being raised than answers provided. There are no tidy solutions suggested to the problems identified (and neither should there be), though there is some hope in the assertion that people can now move “from awareness to action” if they want to see a change in the status quo.

The amount of ground the production covers in under an hour is remarkable (especially as it never feels rushed), talking about, amongst other things, gentrification and the closure of community centres, and the challenges faced even when securing a date – there are judgement values, the show informs its audience, placed upon women of colour, such that reactions can be adverse as and when the woman in question doesn’t fit the mould of someone who enjoys rap music and has a penchant for Caribbean jerk chicken and rice.

Sometimes there’s a message of despair, other times a message of defiance. But it is always very human, and always very real.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

How do you take on racism? How do you handle a racist person? Comfort Tshabalala is a twenty something single on an East London Council estate. She feels stuck in a circle in her office job. The pandemic has left tempers high and ideals exposed. Comfort begins to question if life will ever be the same. An interaction changes her thoughts on her identity, her features and how she feels about being British. The story reveals the layers of pain and confusion caused by extreme ideals. After picking herself up Comfort decides to seek out the answers, from the person who has hurt her the most.

Not everyone is a bad person but how do you know who is? Why are they bad? What if the people we trust so quickly have concealed beliefs – do we try and change them?

Call Me By My Name shares a painful story people experience every day. Fusing together original stories through basslines and spoken word.

Cast & Creatives:
Nicole Botha – COMFORT and Writer
Sabira Stanisavljevic – BECKY
Joseph O’Gorman – THE GUY
Rose Quentin – Co-director

Applecart Arts
170 Harold Road
London, E13 0SE
https://applecartarts.com/

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