Brighton Fringe 2018
This piece by previous award winner Caroline Burns Cooke tells the fascinating true story of a victim of Munchausen by proxy. Burns Cooke’s embodiment of her characters brings them to life and takes us into a bizarre world of untruths and performance.
This piece by Caroline Burns Cooke is set in the USA, and traces the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard whose mother Dee Dee kept infantilised and trapped in a world of fake illness and fantasy. It shares some narrative themes (a young woman abused by someone she trusts and let down by the system around her) with Burns Cooke’s 2016 Argus Award-winning ‘And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet’, and utilises her clear skill as a physical performer.
The staging is very simple and props minimal. Simon and Garfunkel’s America plays us in and tells us where we are. A projector used at one point shows us images of the real Gyspy and Dee Dee, although the very detailed descriptions later of both mean this is perhaps not needed.
The writing is strongest in dialogue and flashback; Burns Cooke’s performance most engaging when she is really embodying her characters.
Dee Dee is the primary narrator, although Gypsy and the neighbour Amy also give us their perspective. For much of the piece, it is down to us to determine how reliable they are in these roles. Male characters appear too, more as ‘types’, and we feel that all of the women are giving us a particular version of the men in their lives.
This is a fascinating story and Burns Cooke is right to want to bring it to life. It is also a complex tale, and at times the desire to tell it in all its inglory somewhat overwhelms the ‘showing’. Some editing to simplify the details, reduce the repetition of points and themes, and allow the characters actions to speak for themselves would make this a more powerful piece. Such simplification might also enable the different characters to be more clearly articulated – the vocal and (considerable) physical differences between them fully explored.
Fake stories and pretence are rich territory for theatre, and Burns Cooke has the tools in her performance toolkit to pull off something really special. One hopes that a little judicious editing might give her the space to do just that.