If you didn’t see it the first time around, Lynn Nottage’s tale of a PR diva on the decline, Fabulation, which received much acclaim when it was first seen at the Tricycle in February, is back at the Kilburn venue. At the heart of the often touching comedy is the tale of a woman, who long ago left her past behind, being forced to finally accept her history and who she is. Matthew Amer followed her journey at the press night.
Undine Barnes Calles is a PR diva. Think Absolutely Fabulous, but in New York. She even has a put-upon assistant with a leftfield choice of clothing. She parties with the elite, the rich, the famous. Her hip hop beau is history; these days she is married to South American lothario Herve.
Marrying Herve was not her smartest move, as her accountant informs her. He has siphoned off her money, disappeared and left her with nothing. With her money go the life she has strived to build, the friends she made and her very identity. Without money she is no longer Undine Barnes Calles, but Sharona Watkins, daughter to security guards from the Bronx, granddaughter to a junky (who the rest of the family believe is just diabetic!). It is to these roots that she is forced to return.
Jenny Jules has the stamina-sapping task of playing Undine. The only cast member to play just one role, she is constantly on stage. Jules’s wild, sweeping gestures and expressive eyes convey Undine’s confusion and rage at the situation she finds herself in, living the life of social security benefits and lotto tickets that she never wanted.
The supporting cast flourish in a range of roles. Karl Collins plays both the scheming Herve (with an outrageous accent) and his honest, kind and thoroughly unglitzy replacement Guy. Yet to single any of them out would be an injustice to the ensemble.
Nottage manages to blend riotous comedy with a truthful and touching tale. Just when you least expect it, she throws a surprise into the mix, like the old school friend who manages to make a life for herself and still stay true to her roots. Bang. It hits Undine and it hits the audience.
The richness of the script is a treat. Following a slight misdemeanour, Undine is put in a holding cell with a woman who, when hit upon by an unwanted man, “introduced him to a feminist movement with the back of my mother****ing hand!” The play is alive with such lines.
The real triumph of the piece is that even though Undine has disowned her family and her past, we still want her to find happiness by the end.