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Saving Britney: Prologue is an online one-woman show devised to be a starter to the main course of a full show on at the Old Red Lion Theatre in summer. The show feels — while perfectly appetising — a little half-baked in some of its arguments surrounding the relentless patriarchal oppression that Britney Spears has suffered at the hands of the entertainment industry. Shereen Roushbaiani plays Jean, the Britney Spears fanatic who takes to a Facebook livestream on a fan page to carefully dissect Spears’ career.
The show opens with shadow puppetry, setting the scene for the sinister fairytale trope that Jean believes Britney has fallen foul to. Speaking in grandiose verse, Roushbaiani warns ‘Empowered men cause most unearnéd shame’. This seems to be laying the groundwork for a feminist argument that Britney Spears has suffered as a female performer at the hands of the powerful men in her life. However, the play is hesitant to push the argument to this extent and I think it lacks conviction and direction as a result.
Next, Roushbaiani pops up as she focuses her camera to begin her livestream. It is this sort of realism, also infused into Roushbaiani’s performance, that really brought the use of pre-recorded footage to life. Roushbaiani stumbles over words and even stumbles as she dances to Spears’ music as the show goes on, forcing us to be just a bit sceptical of the 31-year-old character who may be a little too invested in the celebrity’s life and work. In turn, does this make us just as bad as the naysayers who discredited Spears, once portrayed as an unreliable, volatile figure in the press?
The attention to detail paid to the virtual and physical set by Charles Flint only imbues the show with more meaning and context as comments, likes and Facebook group names dot around the screen. In the background, detailed timelines and scribbled-on posters of Spears’ complete the picture of the obsessed fan that Roushbaiani plays. The comments that pop up as Roushbaiani speaks prove to be both a benevolent and malignant force, as they at turn compliment her and tell her to ‘fuck off bitch’. Either way, the format clearly conveys that the internet is always watching and old and new media alike can have an overwhelming effect on outspoken women.
As she wraps up her discussion, Jean mentions Chris Crocker who published a video to MySpace in 2007 begging everyone to ‘Leave Britney Alone’, for which he was ruthlessly mocked. She highlights it both as an example of why the internet should be kinder and to demonstrate the relentless carousel of opinions that social media provides, favouring and then demeaning its users at the drop of a hat. Jean even shows the very same confusion and contradiction as she acknowledges we should #bekind but begs the question of why the commonplace hashtag even has to exist in the first place.
While this innovative, intriguing piece could dig a little deeper into the implied feminist issue that Britney’s conservatorship presents, it uses it deftly as a springboard for a knotty and much-needed discussion surrounding media, celebrity and the way in which social media only complicates these issues further.
Britney Spears: Prologue is available to watch online until 25 April 2021. For more information and tickets, see Old Red Lion Theatre online.