For Lovers of Dusty

At Theatr Mwldan recently  ‘Call Me Dusty’ a new play about the seventies diva, was performed. The theatre was crowded, evidence of how many people found her interesting enough to discover more about her life. Unfortunately, as the play showed, it was not her life that many fell in love with.It was her voice. Her life was not a happy tale of success and creative joy. It was a sad journey through manic-depression, and a lack of confidence in herself which meant she never trusted in her success and popularity. The review that went in the Tivyside follows, and includes the couple of sentences which were edited out because of the length. 

Call Me Dusty

Call me Dusty, a drama based on Dusty Springfield’s career years, performed at Theatr Mwldan and written by local playwright Derek Webb, was well received by the capacity audience.  Jessica Sandry who took the role of Dusty, gave life to the immense likeability of Dusty from an early age. Her eagerness to please, her charming smile, and her masked shyness, were all apparent from the beginning; as indeed was her ambition. She knew from an early age that she had a ‘voice’, and was very much swayed in the long term by  her love of American music, Tamla Motown, soul and the blues. Alongside Jessica Sandry, two other extremely talented and proficient actors, Jayne Stillman and James Scannell, created between them a host of characters, including parents, management team, the press, and others who were important at different points in her career. Their capacity to bring in a new voice, and a new face were a real testament to their abilities.With the development of the play, the sweet young girl began to display her other less attractive qualities. These were again captured extremely well and with the kind of conviction necessary to carry the audience along with her and bring some understanding to the fact that she was almost certainly seriously bipolar, a condition referred to as ‘manic-depressive’ in those days, and something which we know today afflicts many creative people, performers among them.

There was a lot to love about Dusty, and about the play itself. The stage was cleverly used to present a variety of locations, and the use of archive footage of Dusty herself on the high rear screen, provided some of the most electrifying moments in the play. Hearing again those songs from the sixties and seventies; from Island of Dreams, whilst she was in the Springfields, and later right up to the work with the Pet Shop Boys, her voice still has a quality which is right up to date.

From the charming young girl to the over the top, gorgeous blonde diva with the great bank of blond beehive, and her eyes thickly blackened with liner, shaders and mascaras, it was Dusty Springfield’s voice that everyone loved, and no doubt it was that which brought out such a large and enthusiastic audience at Mwldan, and wherever the play has been produced. The saddest part of Dusty’s life made up the content of the second half of the play and somehow there it lost the momentum built up in the earlier part. Essentially there was more of a ‘telling’ of her life, rather than the action of the earlier scenes. The description of her illness, and her sensitivities was told by others, and somehow rather drawn out. A pity that the wonder of her voice was not the image the audience came away with, but the sad image of a woman in distress struggling to come to terms with losing her fame. Otherwise this was a really successful drama about one of the great singers of our times.

A Lesson in Growing Old (or not)

Virginia Ironside’s show, Growing Old Disgracefully, at Mwldan last week, attracted a predictable audience of  ‘oldies’ from the Cardigan area. Her first words on stage were to ask the audience whether there were any young people there and, of course, there were not. No-one under forty could be bothered to find out how to grow old disgracefully, and looking around at the grey, white, bald and thinnning heads, she could probably have come to that conclusion herself without asking. In fact the audience’s first words, as far as one could hear was one woman whose voice rose rather more than she intended, when she asked her friend ‘What is she wearing?’ in the tone that suggested, no-one we know would be seen dead in it. Indeed her outfit resembled a 1930s washerwoman style, and she did indeed look every inch an old woman, but whether that was intentional is doubtful, and she was perhaps in the height of London fashion, as Virginia is nothing if not Londoncentric.

Her topic turned out to be ‘Growing Old’, the disgraceful bit being hard to spot. She quickly disposed of the idea that people currently in their sixties and seventies, as old rockers and beatniks, are any different in their old age from previous generations, whether or not they would like to think they are; by saying they are in fact exactly like those who have gone before into the mire of old age with their wrinkles, dribbles and farts. She continued with this humorous list of all the discomforts, minor problems, and puzzling disappointments of the ageing years, which she averred are present in all old peoples’ lives. She made plain that those old people who really annoy are those who are still enthusiastic about life and enjoy learning, travelling and sharing with other people of their own age. Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm for spending time with her own generation is what she means by disgraceful. But she was clear in telling the audience that salvation from the rocky road of old age is falling in love with your grandchildren. Is this not what everyone who has them, has been saying for ever? Those amongst the audience who enjoy being grandparents would perhaps concur, but that does not mean that it is the only way to enjoy one’s declining years, and there are many people who may never have grandchildren and the idea that this is a universal fix-it for the difficulties of getting old is a strange notion. Perhaps, to Virginia, those who will never have grandchildren are to be pitied, like her fictional friend who is starting a degree in her sixties. During the hour she was on stage Virginia referred several times to how disgraceful she was when she was young, but we heard nothing from her, except perhaps her refusal to attend a book club, that gave us a clue about how to grow old disgracefully.