Call Me By My Name is perhaps the very antithesis of Call Me By Your Name. One escapes the harsh realities of the present by transporting the viewer to the relaxing 80s Italian Rivera, with dreamy imagery and complete lack of conflict; the other shines an inscrutable spotlight on the systemic issues plaguing the UK right now. We all may want Call Me By Your Name at the moment, but we all need Call Me By My Name far more.
Written by and starring Nicole Botha, the show is a loose exploration of the backlash to the Black Lives Matter protests from earlier this year, looking at their long-term ramifications a few months on. Poetic rather than didactic, Call Me By My Name isn’t a call to action or an indictment of society, but rather an exploration — a lot of powerful questions are posed, but no real answers are given.
Indeed, although there is a loose narrative tying the production together (about a Black council worker named Comfort who somehow ends dating a racist), the focus isn’t on that story, but rather the spoken word performances that intersect it. These lyrical asides are by far the standout feature of the production, with their witty word play, devastating messages, and effulgent deliveries coalescing wonderfully.
Whenever one of the characters approach the microphone at the centre of the stage, the audience quivers in anticipation: we know we’re about to hear something special. Whether it’s Comfort (Botha), her friend Becky (Sabira Stanisavljevic), or even an All-Lives-Matter supporter (Joseph O’Gorman) reciting them, the spoken word segments alone make the show worth watching.
However, the difficulty with Call Me By My Name is that, while the spoken word is innovative and vital, everything else is utterly overdone. Stylistically, the production jumps from format to format, never resting on any one way to convey its truth to the audience. Text chains, verbatim recordings, rehashes of news stories, voiceovers, pre-recorded interactions, bite-size scenes — just when the audience gets comfortable in one genre they’re whisked away to the next, in a whirlwind of variety.
This is, of course, perhaps intentional. If the show is clear about anything it’s that, ironically, now is not the time for comfort; the world shouldn’t be softened but thrown into sharp focus. When Botha and her cast deliver their contemporaneous soliloquies, this is so apparent – their words are powerful and pointed, and incite anger and purpose. But these fantastic moments are almost lost in a sea of unnecessary extra flourishes: more should be done to keep the absolute focus on these essential and timely words.
Call Me By My Name played as part of the Dazed New World Festival from 21 – 22 October. For more information, visit Applecart Arts online.