‘Amateur Girl’ play review

Posted Filed under

Well, almost – for while Fifth Word’s one-woman play Amateur Girl has laugh-out-loud moments to spare, it is also a poignant picture of a woman’s lack of choice, and a slap in the face to anyone who thinks those girls on screen might actually be enjoying themselves.

Having based her play on conversations with a real-life nurse-turned-porn star, Amanda Whittington coats her script in wry observation and – most importantly – a sense of humour to counterbalance the seriousness of its subject matter. Director Kate Chapman does well to sustain this tonal balance and keep the piece from being preachy.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Field’s multi-raked, multi-textured set perfectly reflects the (sorry) multi-faceted character and performance on show. The costumes, too, take us on a woman’s daily journey from job to side-job to chilling at home in a robe and fuzzy slippers, former EastEnders star Lucy Speed’s physical transformation through each segment feeling like a revelation. It’s a simple approach well handled, and thankfully free of moral judgment.

A large part of that is down to Lucy Speed’s brilliant portrayal of Julie; whether feigning disability to get into a Take That concert or being dragged to new lows by her “manager”, she is endearing from start to finish. The Midlands vowels sometimes waver, but that’s hardly a concern when her every gesture and look has the ring of truth to it. Julie is someone you know, and that’s what pulls you in.

Despite her frankness about the sex industry, it’s what Julie suppresses, what she can’t bring herself to say, that fuels Speed’s performance. And while the insinuations regarding her stepfather are thankfully kept to insinuation, one almost wishes that Amanda Whittington had looked at a woman from a different background.

Julie’s slide into pornography is depicted as a result of economic despair, and the need to take control (so she thinks) of her life, but it seems almost easy to make her a working-class victim of abuse. Why do women with happier backgrounds go into porn? Or is that Whittington’s point; that “happier” is as much of an illusion as Julie is?

Rather refreshingly, the play is set in Nottingham, a city with a bad reputation that (perhaps unfairly) this doesn’t remediate. For any Midlanders in the audience, this means references to the Victoria Centre, Forest Fields and the Goose Fair to keep you chuckling while pining for the Left Lion.

For everyone else, this is a funny and punchy show with a hugely engaging central performance. It may not break new ground, but in our sexually unequal society beset by ever-worsening funding cuts and working-class despair, it’s a welcome look at the sort of individual our leaders would rather ignore.

Performed on Monday 17 February 2014 at St. James Theatre in London.