Directed by Jesse Roberts, Branded is a one-woman show about Nina, a social media influencer with a staple as a feminist. The show asks how far someone will go to advertise an idealised image of themselves, even at the expense of their own true self. Through themes of social media, feminism, cancel culture, shame, guilt and intervention we are led through a bouncy and brave account of Nina’s life.
Social media is definitely the zeitgeist of this era, so to see it brought to life in a clever and articulate way is powerful and thought provoking. When Nina posts a photo that receives a comment asking why she has a bruise on her neck she is faced with a predicament; should she lie or re-brand her life? We witness the negative effects that social media and its influencers can have on others, leaving us with a reminder of just how powerful one person’s online presence can be and the detrimental effects of this.
Performer Merle Wheldon-Posner drives us through the story with passion and purpose, impressively morphing in and out of the different characters. From seeing her play the Australian Serafina the hilarious holistic coach to the eccentric French dad, we see a dynamic actor who generates a lot of hefty laughs from the audience.. Kate Crisp comes in at the end as Estelle with a beguiling stage presence to give a provocative twist and a burst of needed vigour.
Branded cleverly takes us into the eyes of the influencer, giving us a different dimension with compassion and empathy. We are left with many thoughts on the association between an individual’s authenticity and online self-idealization and who really has authentic self-expression on social media. To what extent is Nina prepared to go to display a fake but idealised version of herself and who is ultimately going to stop her?
Writer, India Harrison–Peppe puts across many relevant issues from the start, giving this play huge potential. Her fiery writing and imaginative scenes are intriguing throughout. However, as the play progresses, we see a contradictory narrative, resulting in the message becoming unclear. The play falls flat towards the end with the audience quite likely confused. But a tighter structure and a few tweaks could tidy this up and leave Branded as an important and compelling play.
Bomb Factory Theatre is a women-led theatre company based permanently at the Bomb Factory Art Foundation in North London, created to give voice to emerging woman identifying artists. Keep an eye out for them…as they definitely show huge promise.
Note: A previous version of this review incorrectly had the lead character named as Eliza and not Nina.
Written by: India Harrison–Peppe
Directed by: Jessy Roberts
Produced by: Bomb Factory Theatre
Branded plays at Bloomsbury Theatre until 21 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.