The whole set consists of a battered piano, a lamp and an urn. Sue is our main focus. Sue in her new skirt belting out songs recounting plots of films on ITV2. Sue with her dodgy fringe and musical genius. Dafydd James is unimaginably skilled as Sue, both as an actor and pianist. It’s difficult to say whether he was as a singer, but Sue’s falsetto is perfectly piercing and shrill. As the audience files in, Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’ plays very lightly in the background on a loop, so lightly in fact, it’s easy to completely disregard its significance. For members of the audience who do happen to recognise the tune and thus the production’s attention to detail, it adds just a touch extra to the whole ambience. It turns that screw a little tighter. For those who expected a piece from the renowned writer of Llwyth, they may have been a little surprised. For those who had already witnessed the magical combination of Dafydd James and Ben Lewis in 2011 with The Village Social, they would not have been surprised at all. Penned by James and Lewis, it’s safe to say that My Name is Sue has been around the theatre block a few times. Performed at the Edinburgh festival in 2009 where it won the Total Theatre Award for Music and Theatre, the production heads back to the Fringe this year once more. If the preview at Chapter last Friday was anything to go by, the show will be an overwhelming success.
The best way to describe the production is as a kind of demented cabaret. Ridiculously catchy at times, the evening’s music is fantastically written and fantastically played. Scurrying to her piano in the dark, Sue begins with a wonderful classical/Emmerdale theme tune mash-up before taking us on a bizarre musical journey through her life. Sue is accompanied by ‘The Sues’ who make up her band. Dressed in identical frumpy cardigans and sporting equally dodgy Richard II style haircuts, the Sues sit emotionless, nevertheless playing beautifully throughout the show. Sue is bullied at school but enjoys a wonderful home life. That is until her mother drops dead in her flan one tea time.
Sent to finishing school in the Swiss Alps, Sue feels she has finally found her place in the world, where she’s meant to be.Of course, her story doesn’t end there. Subsequent tragic events in her life lead Sue to a place where patients are ‘tied to their beds until ten’, all recounted through some fantastically upbeat musical pieces. The production includes the most innovative audience participation scenes, something which undoubtedly ensures a total immersion into Sue’s world. The whole script is hilarious from start to finish, ranging from obvious gags to well written comical observations. The monologue is exceptionally tight, and for a one-woman show, there isn’t a second where time might lull.
It is obvious that Sue has issues, and although these issues are dealt with in a comical way, that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t any tender moments. Sue is such a loveable character, completely absorbing and wonderfully kind. Some scenes see Sue slip into her mind a bit deeper, to an apocalyptic Cardiff as she rides the bus, to the steps of her beloved finishing school, or to the fiery pit of the Grand Canyon. The flowing narrative has an inherent humour, one which is extracted by James’ performance. The show is an utterly enjoyable hour and a half which will no doubt reach a wider audience next month in Scotland and receive rave reviews.