Review by Harry Bower
The poster for That’s Not My Name shows writer-actor Sammy Trotman holding a copy of DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition), which is literally on fire. Subtle, it is not. Over 75 minutes Trotman blends monologue, poetic verse, comedy, physical theatre, and audience interaction in an attempt to persuade those watching that clinical models and disorder labels do not work. Those efforts are undeniably successful. Essentially, this show is a collection of introspective thoughts, sketches, surprisingly good musical numbers, and confessions. Just how autobiographical it is we never find out, though the performer does acknowledge the script and strongly implies there is at least some fiction woven into the loose narrative, though it’s actually irrelevant, because everything which unfolds feels familiar and relatable.
The shock factor of the show is less shocking than it is thought-provoking and funnier than it is tragic. Naturally that’s because the content has been workshopped and refined over many performances and audiences – Trotman has found the funny and turned it up to 11. In some parts of the performance, audience members were brave enough to laugh out loud (involuntarily) at acts or dialogue which have been intelligently formed with humour at the centre, but which are fundamentally confronting and uncomfortable to watch or hear. Somehow, Sammy Trotman has written a piece which is incredibly serious and attacks topics with great emotional weight, but which doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s the get-out-of-jail-free card for an audience who may feel they’re being tricked into laughing at something that might feel taboo.
Double-meaning and room for interpretation are laced into every minute of the performance; the actor treating her cast and crew poorly ultimately leading to abandonment; a physical mess of props and food littering the stage mirroring emotional and mental states. These are just two examples of a plethora of intelligent and thoughtful storytelling mechanics which add subtlety to an otherwise very direct piece of work. It feels maddeningly inappropriate to be writing a traditional review about a show which is so non-conforming to traditions of storytelling on-stage. It’s at this stage that I might usually comment on how slick the writing is, or how impressed I was with the throwaway humour which underpins every other sentence. In the case of That’s Not My Name I don’t know if calling it ‘slick writing’ is perhaps underselling the sense of raw vulnerability and honesty you feel while watching. It feels less like a theatre ‘show’ and more like a visceral experience, all consuming and deeply held. I was captivated by the performer from minute one.
Sammy Trotman blew me away with her performance. I’ll shy away from using the word ‘brave’ (those who have seen the show will understand why), but this is as passionate and committed as it is possible to see a performer on-stage. She throws everything she has at this role and this show. I spent a large portion of it open-mouthed, anticipating what might come next and nearly always being wrong. Surprises are around every corner, and the big emotional or revelatory moments only hit so hard because of Trotman’s uncompromising commitment to attacking each line with raw energy. In the space of an hour and a quarter I disliked, was ambivalent about, and then fell in love with the character on the stage – a sort of theatrical journey of relationship which can only come about if you are being emotionally manipulated by a puppet master of chaos. It’s a perfect performative synonym for the lived experiences of those with so-called disorders.
Director Jake Rix has been described by other reviewers as ‘intuitive’, and I can get on board with that. It perfectly matches the chaotic vibe throughout, robust enough to add structure where it’s needed and flexible enough to get out of the way at the right times in favour of spontaneity. Rix also takes up a role in the piece, as a bumbling and unsure version of himself, entirely reactive to the brashness of the main character like a rabbit caught in headlights. He has great comic timing and a charm which reminded me of someone like Nicholas Braun. Also appearing throughout is Matt Bamford. His role is a strange one – a bit part of playful silliness which adds delightful physical comedy, and I’ve never seen hips of such dexterity. There are two musical numbers in the show, Lonely Island style, the stand-out being “Ex Is Your Dad”. I didn’t think it was possible to cringe to death and yet I am deceased. It is brilliant, hilarious, and completely stupid – and I loved it.
There is so much more I could write about this show. I could write about the crisps – SO MANY CRISPS – or I could write about the uncomfortable and itch-inducing audience interaction. I could write about the clever use of lighting or the bizarre costumes. Instead, I’ll simply use this space to encourage you to see the show for yourself when it returns to Brighton in June or Camden in August. It is not the perfect theatre show. But it is essential thought-provoking viewing.
That’s Not My Name opens and closes with the same message, a book-end address by its performers to their audience: a thank you to us for attending and supporting fringe theatre. And in many ways that message and this show underpin why fringe theatre is so important. The messages in the piece are integral to the fabric of modern society. Whether or not you agree with the current framework of labels and medical diagnosis or not, we can all agree that the current way of treating mental health in this country (and beyond), is broken. Something must change. To put it bluntly, paraphrasing the show – if the system doesn’t work for a privileged and wealthy white woman – what hope does everyone else have?
That’s Not My Name plays at The Golden Goose Theatre until 20 May, tickets and information here: https://www.goldengoosetheatre.co.uk/thats-not-my-name
Thereafter, the show plays at Brighton Fringe, 02-03 June: https://www.brightonfringe.org/events/thats-not-my-name/
You can also catch it at Camden Fringe, on 02-03 August: https://camdenfringe.com/events/thats-not-my-name/
That’s Not My Name is fundraising for a nationwide tour. Find out more here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/thatsnotmyname