Running time: Approx 1 hour (no interval)
27 April 2006
The Hat Factory
65-67 Bute Street, Luton
2.30pm and 8.00pm
9 May 2006
Old Town Hall Theatre,
High Street, Hemel Hempstead
Do you laugh at Vicky Pollard? Well you could be a social racist without even realising, as a new play written by and starring Lizzie Hopley shows.
The word "chav" is generally used as a derogatory term to describe sections of the working class and is also commonly associated with certain fashions, including some forms of leisure wear and tarten patterned designer wear. The term has become part of our everyday language and was even named the word of 2004 by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary.
But now, tracksuits and Burberry caps will be wreaking their revenge in Beds and Herts when venues open their doors to a new comic tragedy, called "Pramface", which looks to stick up for working class culture and highlight a new kind of prejudice - social racism.
The cutting edge show or "blinger thriller" features heroine Pramface, a "chavette" in a tracksuit who keeps an obsessive secret locked in her cellar and a consuming sense of injustice locked in her heart.
But when Danny Wells, the kid next door, is humiliated on TV talent show Star Search, her anger turns to action, with horrifying consequences.
The darkly comic satire proved to be a big hit at 2005's Edinburgh Festival with The Sunday Times describing the piece as "a clever thriller that lures you into believing it is a comedy about chav culture before upending preconceptions."
Lizzie Hopley, the Liverpool based writer and star of the one-woman show told us how the show grew from a comment made about a member of Atomic Kitten, her anger about how derogatory terms about classes are thrown around so light-heartedly by certain sections of the media and how she can still laugh at Vicky Pollard!
Lizzie, you both wrote and perform "Pramface", what's the premise of the show?
Lizzie: I play two characters, Pramface and the journalist of a celebrity type magazine called Holly Lord.
Pramface hangs around on an estate and there's a young boy there who she idolises. He has just been on a Pop Idol type programme called Star Search and has been rejected from it, she thinks, because of the way he looks.
The journalist [Holly] has been covering the programme and called him "arcade face". She [Pramface] is addicted to these kind of magazines and is trying to work out what is it in a face that makes you acceptable or not, according to the media.
Eventually it turns into a story of revenge because Pramface ends up kidnapping the journalist and exacts a rather nasty revenge on her, to do with what SHE should look like.
If there's one thing that I could pinpoint this show being about, it's social racism.
Where did the idea for the play come from?
Lizzie: I picked up one of those [celebrity] magazines of which there are loads now, it's amazing to think that only four or five years ago there weren't any!
I won't say which one it was but I read the term "pramface" used about a member of Atomic Kitten, Natasha Hamilton. I didn't know what it meant but when I found out that it meant that she had a face that was more suited to pushing a pram around a large housing estate I was in total shock because it's just not funny!
Then I came across the term again in an article by the wonderful Julie Burchill when she mentioned "social racism" and the word chav and I thought "that's it, that's why I was angry", so she nailed it for me really.
The show basically grew from my anger at such terms [pramface, chav] and the light-hearted irony with which they are bandied about the popular press. The play is a hard-hitting response to a culture where it is considered acceptable, even witty, to denigrate working class women.
Pramface is a kind of avenging character created by the very people who put her down.
So, she's more of a symbol of something that society has created?
Lizzie: I wrote a TV script which was a bit edgy and had her kind of being born out of the earth but she is more of a golam type creature, something that is created by villagers to avenge a wrong.
I started to think "What is a Chav, what is this lambasting of the working classes, especially women, and why are they hated? Who has created this?"
What has been interesting is that we have taken it into schools in South London which are predominantly black and we're talking about racism, making people different and labelling them, seeing them as lower than you.
It was very interesting when they made the connection. Pramface herself is quite racist but she's got a kind of twisted logic - your face is different if it doesn't follow the rules that are accepted in the media. And if you don't follow those rules you must be ugly and she does say some very racist things because of that.
We get quite a backlash from that when we take it to these schools but there are always some kids who "get it". They can see the parallels between social racism and "race" racism, that it comes from the same place, from fear and ignorance.
We've had an incredible response to the ending of the show because Pramface is an anti-hero really, a vigilante and I'm not endorsing what she does in the end but people do seem to be on her side.
You've taken it into schools, but it's for older teenagers really isn't it?
Lizzie: Yes - it's quite hard hitting. Part of the development of the show has been taking it into schools to show 16-18 year olds which I think is the youngest age. Although 14-15 years olds are a lot older than I remember! But at that age or younger it's at the parent's discretion really.
And it's funny as well? Do you think that by making people laugh, they question why they are and that gets the tragedy across?
Lizzie: Yes - it starts off like stand-up and you think "wow this girls' great" but it gets steadily darker until there's a terribly racist comment and you can hear the laughter catch in people's throats when they realise what she is, and they'd been going along with her.
She's reduced to a monster, she's followed the logic of the magazines and she is just as corrupted by it.
There are now more articles about this new form of racism, there was a whole piece in the The Guardian's G2 section the other week. We do it unconsciously. Vicky Pollard type characters are so easy to make funny that we don't see it as racism, so it's easier to remove yourself from it.
So do you laugh at Little Britain?
Lizzie: I laugh at Vicky Pollard in Little Britain but I was worried about where I stood after writing this.
But where I think that Matt Lucas is different is that nine times out of ten he gets across that she's actually a tragic figure as well, he shows the innocence in her and you can see that she is really a terrible tragedy. He's such a gifted performer that he makes her much more than a straight parody. You think "bless her" and feel a love for her as well.
The show did really well at Edinburgh in 2005, that must have been a relief because it can be a real risk?!
Lizzie: Yes - it just seemed to hit the spot. There was a musical up there as well sponsored by Willy Russell about Chavs and we'd meet on the Royal Mile - me pushing a pram down the Royal Mile was a real sight to behold!
In Edinburgh we were surprised by the wide age range of people who "got it" as we thought it would be for a young audience but older people can appreciate the horrific nature of these types of magazines and shows on TV.
We were surprised because it [Edinburgh] showed that this wasn't just a youth show, and there's a serious message there that really makes you think as well as laugh!