Erin Cobby chats with Stacey and Nicola Bland, writers of Call Me Vicky about the importance of honestly representing their trans godmother and appreciation for Pleasance Theatre’s commitment to new voices.
The din of The Merchant of Bishopsgate does nothing to mask the voices of Stacey and Nicola Bland, sisters and co-writers of play, Call me Vicky. Their mischievous grins and habit of talking over each other makes talking to them feel like your engaging in a conspiracy. You can immediately tell that they’re related, not that they look particularly similar. Stacey emerges back from a toilet trip, explaining apologetically: “Sorry I took five minutes, I was trying to get into the men’s”, “you’re an absolute drip” Nicola replies.
Back in November, the Pleasance Theatre announced their #youwillknowtheirnames season, a programme entirely devoted to ensuring new voices are heard on the London theatre scene, which you can read about in Director, Anthony Alderson’s piece for us, here. One of the most anticipated shows programmed, amongst a list which features a model baring all about the industry and a climate change satire, is the Bland sisters’ Call me Vicky, a true story based on their godmother who transitioned in Elephant and Castle in the 80s.
Call me Vicky encapsulates the Pleasance’s pledge to new voices and diversity, not only created by first time writers and collaborators like the Blands but focusing on a voice that is rarely given a personal and authentic showcasing: trans-women. The sister’s commitment to legitimacy is commendable, Nicola states that when you normally read that something is “based on a true story, it’s like 10%… but ours is 90% and the things that maybe aren’t true are the things we had to tone down a bit, otherwise it would have been one drama after another in 70 mins”.
Family is at the centre of the piece, with both sisters incredibly starting to write it separately due to hints dropped by their mother, like “oh Vicky’s got great stories.” This gentle prompting worked out for the best as each sister got a different side of the story, with Nicola going straight to the source – Vicky while Stacey worked through their mum. “It was great,” Nicola explains, “I was like ‘well Vic didn’t say it went like that’ and she was like ‘well mum didn’t say it went like that’.” This hashing out allowed them to get a wider sense of Vicky’s environment, allowing her voice to come through with even further veracity.
The opportunity that the Pleasance Theatre has given the two women has not gone unappreciated, they both wax lyrically concerning the level of support they’ve received. Stacey recollects trying to take the play to another theatre and getting quoted 40 grand. “That’s totally out of our remit,” she explains. This leads our chat to focus on why funding is so important, that the level of affluence it takes to back a play, “makes it impossible for anyone who,” as Nicola puts it, “doesn’t have wealthy parents willing to give 40 grand”.
In turn, the sisters are trying to use this platform given to them by to further increase support for new voices. Stacey explains that “our creative team is a mix of experienced people and people just trying to make their way into the industry.” They have also shown a vested interest in supporting female artists, bemoaning the lack of women in the arts, especially at director level.
The play has already received positive feedback which reinforces the importance of showcasing diverse stories. While they were prepping for their BBC show, a researcher approached them explaining how excited she was that they were on there. She went on to explain that she believed her cousin should have transitioned but due to her Jamaican background socio-political pressures had made this impossible. She further went on to tell them how great it was to see working-class representation.
This idea of telling a working-class story is central to the creation of Call me Vicky. After being frequently typecast as either drug dealers or teenage mums, coupled with seeing working-class” dramas directed by middle-aged white men, the sisters decided these kinds of stories needed an honest platform.
The play allows even further inclusion as its 80’s setting acts as a gateway for the older generation to discuss a topic that they may feel has developed beyond their own capabilities due to the modern lexicon used especially amongst younger people. Additionally, a lot of focus is given to how someone’s transition can affect whole families. During their workshopping, a mother stood up who, unbeknownst to Stacey and Nicola had a daughter who was transitioning. She explained that even though the play was set in the past, the themes still resonated with her and helped her to feel less alone during a difficult time.
The next step for Call me Vicky seems unclear, with both sisters explaining that due to their level of involvement thinking about life beyond the Pleasance run seems impossible. Nicola laughs, “it will be the last night when we take our final bow and think, God, what the fuck just happened!” However, they have ideas to potentially workshop within schools, having links with Redbridge Drama Centre. Whatever the next step for this play, the sisters main aim is to continue the work aided by The Pleasance Theatre in getting the story heard and allowing Vicky’s voice to resonate with as many people as possible.
Call me Vicky is playing until March 9. For more information and tickets, visit the Pleasance Theatre website.