There’s the inevitable awkwardness of Bri (Jodie Irvine) saying something to someone she has only just met that might be open to misinterpretation. Then there are other things that are spoken and done that need no analysis or clarification. Despite the party atmosphere created by a large array of party hats, balloons and those ‘party poppers’ that leave streamers all over the floor, amongst other props, it becomes clear that not every party Bri (short for Brianna) has attended in recent years has resulted in a good time.
This is not a simple case of boredom at a party that she has been invited to and putting a brave face on it all. As tends to be the case with single performer shows, Irvine takes on a variety of characters, giving them all their distinct voices and accents, allowing the audience to hear both sides of a conversation. What is particularly interesting here is that although Bri has gone through a traumatic experience to say the least, the aftermath seems even more disturbing, as people who she had genuine reason to believe were her friends were no longer so.
She does, she says, retain one friend, who is good enough to speak with her privately and frankly, which appears to be a turning point for Bri, such that she can begin to recover and – to tell it like it is – get on with her life. But even the ‘intervention’ leaves Bri wondering if she exercises the appropriate amount of control over her own affairs, or if she’s letting other people influence her too much. The on-stage props are used quite inventively – for instance, a balloon was used as dough being kneaded (and without the said balloon bursting).
Gobby, a nickname Bri was bestowed with in her childhood for being talkative, is the kind of show that is relatable at least to some extent for some people, but it is also the kind of show that one wishes this were not so. The thing about ‘gaslighting’ (I will leave you to look the term up elsewhere should you need to) is that there often isn’t a definitive critical incident that a victim (or perhaps the word ‘survivor’ is more appropriate) can unequivocally point to as an event that crossed a line into domestic abuse.
There is no indication that the show is an autobiographical piece of theatre – Irvine stays in character throughout – but irrespective of whether any elements of the storyline are drawn from personal experience, it is told with a mixture of warmth and sensitivity. I got the feeling that I was a ‘fly on the wall’ at these parties, and while some of what transpires is far from wholesome and fun, the play retained my interest throughout.
Because of the way in which the story is told, it unfolds gradually, but it’s worth sticking with it: despite the complex issues being dealt with, including mental health and self-awareness, the show is easy to follow. The approach taken here is quite refreshing, devoid of preachiness and sweeping generalisations, as Bri reaches her conclusions based on what has actually happened. There aren’t any simple solutions offered, perhaps because, without giving too much away, there simply aren’t any simple solutions in the first place.
I found myself momentarily wondering after the show if the audience was given sufficient detail on the precise nature of the gaslighting that took place, before realising that Irvine’s Bri actually couldn’t have been more elaborate on who said what to whom and what went on – and, most pertinently of all, the impact of the other characters’ conduct, both individually and collectively, on her. The right mixture of humour and poignancy makes for a boisterous and heartfelt production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Gobby is a biting and heartfelt one-woman odyssey set over five parties. It follows the story of Bri, who is newly out of an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship, charting her journey to recovery via the different people she meets at different parties over a two year period. It’s a playlist of awkward encounters, finding self-awareness and growing up, staged amongst hoards of party paraphernalia and a whole host of anarchic festivities. It’s a darkly comic telling of survival, and a lesson in how to throw a really good party.
Saturday November 30th & Sunday December 1st 2019