Dastardly nightclub owner Chester Charles is the epitome of an evil boss, caring little about those he employs (other than how they look), and treating people horrendously. As new-starter Heather joins the ranks, an uprising simmers and it looks as if Chester might be toppled from his throne.
A challenging watch for many reasons, Call Me Daddy deals with themes that are uncomfortable, but does not manage to do so as effectively as we would hope. The plot is a bit all over the place, and a few story beats lack clarity (for instance, Bonnie seems comfortably institutionalised, but then appears to lead the strikes without any obvious character development). Some threads are left unresolved and police-ex-machina suddenly bring the villain to justice, dampening the catharsis in the confusion of this turn of events.
What should be commended of this show are its song lyrics. Though the music is a little odd at times, the lyrics of the songs are always witty, fun, and charming. There are also occasional moments of potency, like the rule stating "be smart, not fat…" highlighting the ludicrous but very real stigma that associates a lack of intelligence with a larger body – indeed, the show's emphasis on the way women are treated based on their appearance is an important issue that deserves air time in art forms such as this. Evidently, the show's creator Hannah Etheridge has natural flare with words and, with some honing of the script itself, this material could certainly be a force.
It is difficult to judge the quality of the script here due to its execution – pacing feels rushed, and jokes are often missed or over-egged. Especially in a script that pushes boundaries and is border-line offensive (however, think Book of Mormon – this can be done to great effect), performances need to be slick and polished in order to be most impactful.
None of this is helped by the technical theatre in this production which leaves much to be desired. The lighting is rarely effective, and often distractingly out of place or time; sound cues seem to be missed left right and centre; and though arguably the limited set and budget costumes could add to the charm of a piece like this, the use of props in particular feels poorly thought through.
The performances in general are distractingly poor. Though the singing is largely strong, the acting is inconsistent, messy, and feels under-rehearsed, a shame as many of the characters seem to be written well and with potential to be very entertaining. One exception is Ryan Freebury as the deplorable Chester Charles – it's clear Freebury understands the intention behind this piece and does his best to accurately portray a slimy and vile man, pulling no punches in his performance, though we just wish he would lean into the pantomime villainy of the character to draw out our hatred even more. He builds a good rapport with the audience, especially in the second half, albeit indulging in fourth-wall breaks just a little too much.
What this show needs is some collaboration and reworking, but its heart is certainly good.
And if you like camp, silly, and a cathartic rage against symptoms of patriarchy, it has one more performance at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 18th November.