The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin
In this new and engaging musical written by Kirsten Childs, young Viveca Stanton AKA Bubbly, (Karis Jack), lives her life in a bubble.
As a young middle-class black girl, living in 1960’s California, the civil rights movement is in full swing and her family’s advice to the obvious racism around her is to smile.
She progresses to school where cruel white children advise her to stop being an ‘Oreo’ (great biscuits she says!) pretending to be white and get real.
Her white, blonde doll Chitty Chatty, (Jessica Pardoe) advises the fantasist bubble as a continuing option – then monumentally breaks down to tell the truth about Vivica’s potential as an intelligent black girl with real dreams.
As Vivica develops in ‘new love’ era of the 1970s, she meets hippy ‘Cosmic Rainbow’ (LLanyll Gove) tells her that her ‘real’ hair makes her look like Jimi Hendrix. It is the start . . .
She grows up, moves to New York to pursue her dream of being the ‘best dancer in the world’, and her new influences offer different advice – and in a nice touch, a different actor (Sophia Mackay) takes over, watched by the younger Vivica, cuddly her even younger self as a doll. Her minder and neighbour Gregory Robinson (Jay Marsh) gently leads her towards the truth of her own situation. The scene where they are attacked by the white police officers is truly shocking.
Enough of the story, the songs were amazing – I loved each one more than the last but the Dance Class has stuck in my mind, the beautiful song her father (Trevor A Toussaint) sings. Granny’s advice (Shelley Williams) is just plain brilliant; a gospel number about advice to Lucas (Ashley Joseph), Vivica’s first grown up love, to always have a spare woman. Sharon Wattis plays mum and Matt Dempsey plays Director Bob who chooses Vivica at the start of her career on Broadway. All the company play many, many parts throughout.
I did think of Hairspray a few times, but that’s no bad thing, and enjoyed the energy and honesty of the piece. It has a story to tell, across several decades and, though the battle isn’t won, this piece offers a useful parable of one woman’s journey of standing up to internalised and institutional racism. Directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo, this co-production by Belgrade Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East runs to 08-04-17.