The Reluctant Drama Queen

From Minnelli to Minogue, and Garland to Gaga, the press have clamoured for the remotest scrap of information about them; performing media autopsies. Leaving the bare bones of their lives exposed for the fans; which in turn, have soared with the highs and plummeted with the lows.

Why? – Because we love a bit of drama.

Do we have space for another tragic heroine? Can we sit and watch as somebody else’s life unravels before us? – You bet we can?
Susan White, 35 and average in almost every way, is the creation of actress and writer Rachael Halliwell; Ms White, the protagonist in the play, Deirdre and Me is a dangerously obsessed fan of fictional Coronation Street character, Deirdre Barlow, and it’s this that makes her perfect for a gay audience, which is ravenousness for an evening of tragi-comedy.

Deirdre and Me, Halliwell’s first full length stage play, has just completed a short UK tour, leaving in its wake a torrent of reviews, that compare her skilful writing to that of Alan Bennett. Some reviewers have even gone so far as to call her the new Victoria Wood. When I had the opportunity recently to interview Rachael, I asked her how she felt about this, and she told me, “I am delighted by the comparison to Victoria Wood. It’s a huge compliment.”

Following the previous tour there are plans for an autumn 2011 run in London, followed by another regional UK tour in 2012, including a spell at the Edinburgh festival.

The play has a fluid structure. Drip by drip Susan’s obsession with Deirdre flows out, trickles of darkness are balanced with great splashes of comedy until the conclusion is a tsunami of angst that makes you feel like you’re trying to breathe underwater.

Susan, unaware she is suffering from a delusional disorder talks candidly to the audience, about her staunch belief that she has a relationship with Deirdre Barlow. She is so resolute in this belief that, in one part of the play, while talking about waiting for Deirdre outside Granada studios, she says. “She always gives me a little nod and a smile; I suppose she doesn’t want to make it too obvious that we are such good friends”. Earlier when talking about another fan, she says. “She calls herself a ‘Super Fan’. I don’t know how Deirdre copes with them fanatics sometimes. It must drive her mad. I think I may have to come more often, just in case they get a bit testy around her.”

It’s this reluctance to boast about being Deidre’s friend that makes her descent into madness so heart wrenching, we can’t help but feel her pain, and let’s be honest, it’s that pain that is the secret ingredient, the very essence required to become a gay icon.

Finally when I asked Rachael if there had been any response to the play from Coronation Street she said, “ITV have been supportive of the project, as I made sure to clear it with them at the very early stages.” And obviously at the interview, I asked the question everyone wanted answering and the reply was, “I did get a personal call from Deirdre, (Anne Kirkbride). I was on cloud nine”.

For show details and more information go to http://www.deirdreandme.co.uk
Photo by Victoria Nightingale

Published: Different Scene August 2011 © Barry Lillie

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