DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A SHOW ABOUT EASTENDERS OR BOBBY BEALE.
We Need to Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders), explores the effects of adult storylines on young child actors. What happens when they are called upon to perform scenes that involve violence, sexuality and other mature content? How young is too young? And when does it become more than just pretend?
Paperback theatre tells the story of 12 year old child actor Annie (Tara Groves). After being advised that she ‘won’t be cute forever,’ her parents (Sophie Portway and George Attwell Gerhards) make the decision to submit her for more ‘mature’ roles. This lands Annie a part in a gritty new TV show, where she’s exposed to swearing, sex and violence, both on and off set.
The process of growing into adulthood is awkward enough already—between hormones, growth spurts, and periods—without having to do it in public—or on the Internet. Annie transitions from a polite, naïve young girl into someone who is entitled, angry and expletive-laden. A young pre-teen who can’t post photos of herself without getting trolled or who can’t even go shopping with her friends without dealing with aggressive behaviour from men over twice her age. Obligated to respond to every fan, to pose for every picture, to sign every autograph, for fear of outrage should she refuse.
The question posed is: ‘Does the industry do enough to safeguard young children on set.’ Writer & performer Gerhards certainly thinks not and We Need to Talk About Bobby is very much a one sided piece. Everyone in the industry is portrayed as overly self-involved and narcissistic and although this may be somewhat true (no comment), the effect of this bias is that the audience end up being told what to believe and how to feel instead of being able to make their own minds up.
Stage parents are about as popular as estate agents but one thing We Need to Talk About Bobby does very well is portray middle class Mum & Dad as truly loving parents. Although their decisions may not always be right, they care more about their daughter’s wellbeing than any money/fame she may garner. Portway and Gerhards merge seamlessly into the various characters of the piece, jumping from Mum and Dad respectively, to directors, actors and various members of the production team. Gerhards producing a very funny turn as a condescending casting director. Groves gives a stellar performance as protagonist Annie, making it easy to feel pathos for her character, even in her morally unforgiveable moments.
Unfortunately, as there are numerous productions being held at The King’s Head Theatre, the set design has to be improvised around the various shows. Not much seems to fit in with the play apart from the very apt positioning of a sofa, which hints towards the ‘casting couch’ horror stories of which people have become increasingly familiar. Although this process never actually takes place, the feeling of unease and discontent that this prop brings along with it, ensures that a certain level of tension is always present. The element of breaking the fourth wall is perhaps one of the most successful tools of the piece. As the media has become democratized; social media and user-generated content mean anyone can write about anyone. We are all part of the media, whether we want to admit it or not, and Lucy Bird’s direction ensures we are also part of the creation and consumption of putting child actor Annie on screen. Instead of merely watching Annie’s story unravel, the audience are put in the driving seat for the casting and directing process. Unfortunately, many believe that once a child becomes a public figure, they forfeit their rights to be protected the way a child should. If anyone didn’t realise before how important they were in the production of child actors, they certainly left enlightened to it and also to what a tremendous responsibility that is.