A look at celebrity obsession and growing up in the noughties.

Presented in the aftermath of the Britney Spears conservatorship controversy, this one-woman show feels like a suddenly more topical work of theatre than might otherwise have been the case. 

On the face of it, it’s a homage to the noughties’ pop princess, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that it’s actually a vehicle for telling the story of her devoted British super-fan, Jean... 

Britney’s music is the soundtrack to Jean’s unfolding life, accompanying her through the trials and tribulations of her parents’ divorce, her sexual awakening, various relationships and her mother’s death... 

The production lands in Lichfield on the back of plenty of positive feedback.

Saving Britney - reviewed at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham, on Friady 14 February.

The #FreeBritney movement has been one of Twitter’s most popular campaigns over the past couple of years and, along with the New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears, inspired David Shopland to write and direct the play Saving Britney, which originally opened at London’s Old Red Lion in June last year and visits Lichfield as part of its current UK tour.

The protagonist in this one-woman show is Jean, a millennial fan of Britney Spears, played by Shereen Roushbaiani, who also co-devised the piece with Shopland. Jean keeps a Book Of Connections to log the apparent coincidences in her life and that of the singer who burst onto the pop music scene in 1998 with the hit single “…Baby One More Time.”

Jean may have grown up in Cirencester, but she shares Britney’s middle name and, from the moment she hears “…Baby One More Time” at the age of eight, embarks on a passion for the Louisiana-born singer that borders on complete obsession.

Saving Britney is set entirely in Jean’s bedroom and takes the form of a monologue in which the audience is led through her discovery of Britney and the moments in her life that she perceives as links between herself and her pop idol. The only other character in the play is a narrator, also played by Roushbaiani, who provides biographical information on Spears.

And on that note, the beauty of Saving Britney is that you don’t have to be a fan of Spears to enjoy the performance. This reviewer saw the New York Times documentary when it was shown on TV, but had never bought any of her CDs, and found the narrative thoroughly entertaining.

Even a rudimentary knowledge of Spears will be sufficient to appreciate the nuances of Roushbaiani’s portrayal of Jean, as she reveals aspects of her upbringing that are joyous and tragic in equal measure.

One of the delights of the 70-minute show is the popular culture references that are liberally scattered throughout the script, such as an early mention of CD:UK, the music programme on ITV where she saw the video of “…Baby One More Time,” trips to the record shop Our Price and posting messages on the social networking website, Bebo.

The script takes the audience through Jean’s troubled school days, where her diagnosis as suffering from ADHD at the age of 11 leads to a sense of isolation that is only relieved when she discovers her burgeoning sexuality at a school disco, with Britney’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003 a key link for her.

Jean’s relationship with her parents is a major theme in the dialogue, and an important date for her mother coincides with Britney entering the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in 2008, adding another entry in her Book Of Connections.

Saving Britney - Reviewed at The Old Joint Theatre, Birmingham on Friday 14 January, 2022.

The play is full of humour and Roushbaiani delivers these witty observations very skilfully, with occasional nods to the audience for agreement. The script also focuses on the conservatorship that was placed on Spears in 2008 and recently terminated by a Los Angeles court.

Like Ricicles, the nostalgic sugar-coated breakfast cereal that Jean used to enjoy in her childhood, Saving Britney is a treat of a production that could be seen as a sweet pleasure, but with enough dramatic substance for audiences to leave the theatre with something to chew over.

Reviewed by Steve Taylor


4 Stars on Mon, 17 Jan 2022

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