Review: Confidence (Southwark Playhouse)

Tanya Burr makes her stage debut in Judy Upton’s play in London

Tany Burr in Confidence
Tany Burr in Confidence
© Helen Murray 2018

I'm not much of a follower of make-up tips on YouTube so I hadn't heard before of Tanya Burr who has made her name and a fair amount of dosh telling people how to apply eyeliner. But I read an interview with her and thought she talked a lot of sense about things – and I admire her willingness to make her stage debut in a small theatre in south London.

Her courage doesn't really pay off. You wouldn't ask a plumber to apply your make-up and I am not sure a make-up expert is any better qualified to be an actress than I am. She is game and jaunty as Ella, the girl on a different kind of make in Judy Upton's coming-of-age drama, but her limitations as a performer make the pace too monotone, the action too slow.

Because he only took over the part a week ago, the experienced Lace Akpojaro as Edwin, the small-time magnate who proves her match when it comes to the working of an old-style confidence trick is also a little uncertain. All the best work comes from the supporting characters, particularly from Anna Crichlow, as the put-upon teenager behind the counter of a run-down seaside café, and Will Pattle and Rhys Yates as brothers Dean and Ben, always trying to work the angles.

They just about keep the play afloat with the help of Amelia Jane Hankin's lovely pocket-handkerchief size set, which conjures the caff, the ice-cream booth and the general air of decrepitude in a tiny space. Though the plot is schematic, the writing is lively, not to mention rowdy. There are good jokes about this being the kind of place where even the Punch and Judy man drowned himself, and where Madame Zara and her crystal ball are thinking of packing up at the end of the season.

The resort is so boring, in fact, that all Ella has to do with her time is indulge in unusual acts (with the help of the besotted Dean) with a Cadbury flake, and plan how to escape and hit the big-time, her resourcefulness and imagination never quite matched by the success of her schemes. The play was first staged in 1998, but its portrayal of dead-end lives still rings just as true today.

It needs, however, a kind of mad energy and verve, if its imperfections are to be ignored. It also needs more empathy. Both qualities are unfortunately missing here.