‘Catherine Bennett,’ and ‘Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model,’ starring Bryony Kimmings and her nine-year-old niece Taylor, were two shows about the same thing but designed for different audiences.
The first show, ‘Catherine Bennett’ was for 6-9 year olds and explored the ‘sexualisation and commodification of childhood through pop culture,’ but with zippy graphics, videos, dance segments and a dressing up box.
The second show, ‘Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model,’ was aimed at adults and explored the ‘sexualisation and commodification of childhood through pop culture,’ but with baseball bats, knights outfit and personal digressions about rape fantasies.
Both performances were a two hander between Bryony and Taylor and the first, Catherine Bennett, played as a mixture of monologues, asides and re-enactments of a summer in which Taylor’s inquisitiveness sparked an idea in Bryony’s mind. Taylor was questioning why all pop stars were carbon copy’s of the other, so Bryony suggested they invent a superstar icon all of there own that was maybe a bit left field. Together they looked at scientific studies, costume ideas and how to construct the perfect pop song in order to create a better role model for Taylor and her friends, one who might ‘look at life sideways,’ and actually wear clothes. Bryony wanted to turn the fame machine on its head, use it as a platform to create an alternative and more socially conscious pop star, but with the aim of educating children on how sometimes it’s totally fine to go against the grain. Catherine Bennett was born, and when she finally appears on stage we realise she is a different kind of pop star. She loves tuna pasta, cycles everywhere and has curly hair, because not enough pop stars have curly hair. She sings song about not being able to get out of bed, friendship and a future full of chocolate knifes and forks. Oh, and she’s a palaeontologist. Catherine Bennett, or CB to her friends, is played by Kimmings, and feels delightfully real despite us seeing behind the curtain of her construction. She is bright and wonderfully scatty, like a less self aware Katy Perry. The show could so easily have fallen into a saccharine void, championing a cause with such earnestness that it causes cynicism in the nearest grown-up with any dose of bitterness in their blood, (or maybe that was my fear because I came to this play without a child) but it’s so unashamedly heartfelt and inspiring that you fall in love with the pair. Kimmings clearly adores her niece, and wants her to feel anything is possible, citing Emmeline Pankhurst as example in a bedtime story segment, and with inventive song and dance routines, the fun never gets lost in the message.
But if the first show is about Bryony’s and Taylors triumphant journey, then ‘Credible Likeable Role Model’ focuses on Bryony’s insecurities about her own credentials as a credible role model. The set up is the same, two microphones, dual monologues, dressing up and music, except thematically it addresses more adult themes. Although the story of Catherine Bennett is told once more, it contains honest asides from Kimming’s about the troubling hypocrisy of grown ups and the messages we give but don’t adhere too, Taylor playing nearby with noise cancelling headphones so she doesn’t hear her Aunt’s fears that she drinks too much and watches too much porn. Kimming’s explains how she harbours anxieties about letting Taylor loose in an increasingly dark world, and demonstrates her reaction to what Taylor may find on the Internet by ‘gouging’ out her eyes with a spoon. The show explores why Catherine Bennett had to be invented, citing recent studies on Tweens, and how they went from putting kindness as top priority for their future, to being famous.
Catherine Bennett does make an appearance but it far more subdued then the earlier show, knowing that for cynical adults she is a harder pill to swallow. Kimming’s acknowledges that soon Taylor might find her a bit ‘weird,’ and as she lays Taylor’s ‘sleeping’ body out on a medical tray, near tears, Kimmings talks frankly about how she promised Taylor they would change the world with Catherine Bennett, and she worries they have not achieved enough. They have been played on Radio One, but Taylor hasn’t met Ellen DeGeneres. Throughout the show Kimming’s resists letting Taylor dress as a princess, fighting the good fight of equality with every facet, but eventually she relents and as they do their final clumsy dance to Jessie J in Tudor smocks and Taylor leaves the theatre to go out into the ‘unknown,’ I was not the only audience member to shed a little tear.