I’m staring at Sue Perkins. Or, to be more accurate, a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of Sue Perkins. She stands at the back of the stage. She doesn’t exactly command the space, but her presence is certainly felt. ‘Woman’ (Eleanor Higgins) is less able to stand. She emerges groggily from a drunken stupor and reaches, desperately, first for more wine and then for a bottle of pills.
In PurSUEt is the story of a woman obsessed with the comedian/presenter/writer Sue Perkins, best known for being half of the double-act ‘Mel and Sue’, who presented Great British Bake Off. This show, however, is less baking of madeleines and more descent into madness. Woman guides us through a series of ‘chance’ encounters with Sue at book signings, backstage parties and fundraisers. Lurking underneath all these weird (and often hilarious) encounters is the spectre of the protagonist’s depression and use of alcohol as a crutch.
Higgins is an engaging storyteller, growing ever more charismatic as the piece develops. Her characterisation in particular stands out as she commandingly shifts between the cast of people Woman meets. As you might expect, her Sue Perkins is especially (worryingly) convincing. Despite Woman’s oddities, I do genuinely feel on her side. The script, however, had more potential for humour which Higgins’ delivery did not always capitalise on – I’m sure the comic timing will tighten up as the play shifts into its run at the Edinburgh Fringe, however.
The play does a good job of luring you in with the intrigue of how this woman got here – why is she so obsessed with Sue Perkins?! It uses this platform to take in an impressive scope of themes: addiction, mental health, and our innate yearning for connection. Whilst none of these themes felt crass, or unjustified, I didn’t truly feel that the play did any more than scratch the surface of each. I enjoyed and looked forward to each time we would witness another encounter with Sue, but then didn’t feel a true emotional hit of why Woman was so possessed by her. The play finishes, the lights come up, and I’m eyeing up Sue again. I feel like I know her a lot better. It’s certainly been a bit of a whirlwind journey, engaging and amusing in equal measure. Ultimately, however, In PurSUEt didn’t quite reach the potential it clearly has to speak to the desperate need we have for connection in the cult of celebrity age. Sadly it suffered, like Sue, from being a bit two-dimensional.
Written and created by Eleanor Higgins
Produced by Bush Productions
In PurSUEt has completed its run at King’s Head Theatre. The show will be playing EdFringe at the Underbelly’s Cowgate. More information can be found here.