Wake Up & Deirdrealize at the Wardrobe, Bristol

Deirdre Me is on a mission… she wants to help us, to make our lives better. She recounts her life story, the hardships, the miseries, the redemptions and the triumphs. She wants us to learn from her journey so we can achieve fulfilment. Like a mother protecting and nurturing her vulnerable brood she treats the audience as if they were her own children. “This isn’t entertainment!” she declares, “it’s a voyage of improvement.” She loves us and wants us to listen and learn, but most of all… Deirdre wants us to love her.

Deirdre’s beaming face welcomes us to the show, blonde hair, gaudy glasses and red lips. A vivid orange outfit with bright pink tights and leopard-pattern scarf; you can’t miss her. How can we not be enthralled? She tells us about her childhood in Texas, Tennessee: one of 28 and raised in poverty. A tough life and some wrong turns but a series of epiphanies means that Deirdre is here to tell the tale and help us in our own journey of personal development… or more specifically certain members of the audience who gamely cooperate. In fact, audience participation is a big part of this show. Not just the willing volunteers on stage but the whole crowd. And it’s a big risk when you ask the spectators to be such a large part of the act. It succeeds (just) because the audience are so willing to engage, although sometimes it felt like hard work. The show doesn’t quite have the legs to really chuff along at any pace, it starts slowly and only just gets going in the middle.

I know improvisation is supposed to be spontaneous but at times it felt like a work in progress. There are parlour games for the participants; wigs, masks and balloons. Deirdre coaxes and commands them to various tasks, the funnier bits are when these go wrong and Lucy Harrington, who plays Deirdre, must be hoping that not all goes right otherwise she’d be left with little material to play with. Lucy is a strong and confident performer who manages to hold our attention throughout the show. She keeps the Deirdre persona going, she has a way of charming the audience, who go along with her… right up to the rather pitiable conclusion. I’d like to have seen more of the subtle pathos of this ending in the rest of the performance: it brought some variety and depth to a show that was a little light on originality and often lacking energy.

Wake Up & Deirdrealize is the first full length show produced by the team behind the regular Nincompoop nights at the Wardrobe Theatre. They describe it as “combination of storytelling and game show with a dark twist”. The show has already played on tour in several cities around the UK and is due at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.  ★★☆☆☆    Adrian Mantle   30th June 2017