There is a single chair on stage, opening music plays and a phone rings. A solo performer answers her mobile and slumps in the chair, incredulous and shocked as she receives news. From the outset, it is clear this is not just ‘storytelling’ as billed, but a gripping dramatic monologue. While the audience is left on tenterhooks, the tension is broken with a high-energy rant on fashion and image, followed by the start of the story of Vickie, a woman whose life has taken more dramatic twists and turns than many a play at the Fringe.
Taking us from hardship and vulnerability to extraordinary empathy, this is an uplifting piece of work performed by a gifted and generous actor.
Born in a drug-infested urban neighbourhood, Vickie was getting into trouble by Sixth Grade – we hear tales of angel dust, biting and threats of expulsion – but lured by reality TV dreams, she leaves home to live with her “drug executive” father in California. This piece is as much about image as overcoming adversity. As Vickie tells us, if you “straighten your hair, you can pretend you’re white.”
However, a rich mixture of exuberant self-determination and somehow getting in with the right people (despite coming from the wrong side of the tracks) leads Vickie to New York to pursue an acting career. She promises her young nephew that he must join her there when he grows up. When the phone call from the start of the drama returns, we learn that things don’t work out as they might.
This story is a rollercoaster ride, and yet despite the ups and downs it is a hugely positive, energetic and uplifting tale. What’s more, the self-indulgent slant that some performers often wallow in is superseded by a vibrant theatricality. Vickie Tanner plays out her life-story with great vitality and emotion, impersonating various characters with humour, tenderness and above all, respect. With great use of music and movement, the pace is literally breath-taking and occasional slips are inevitable. Sometimes Tanner’s delivery is so rapid it is hard to get hold of her words or to allow them to sink in before she sets off on another part of her journey.
This, perhaps, is the thing: she is almost running into herself as she narrates her whirlwind life. It is in the conclusion, though, that we see how from extremely dysfunctional beginnings Vickie has not only succeeded as a person and an artist but also as an educator. Taking us from hardship and vulnerability to extraordinary empathy, this is an uplifting piece of work performed by a gifted and generous actor.