From caterpillar to swan

Death of a beauty saleswoman,

Old Joint Stock


JJ is a hard, ruthless, Jamaican businesswoman complete with hair weave, lightened skin , elocution, permed eyebrows, and a complete disregard for everything but herself and money.

She is a self made woman, much at the expense of others, and in the well manicured, nourished and nurtured hands of Debbie Tracey,  who wrote and stars in this one woman play, JJ is also very funny.

Tracey manages to populate the piece with a whole host of characters and stereotypes full of hang-ups and foibles as we find out about first husband Darren, Jamaican through and through with accent so strong you could  almost smell the ackee and saltfish.

Then there was Barry, spiv, wide boy, a lovable – at least at first - sarf London rougue and millionaire, at least so he implied, club owner.

We have the Nigerian help, illegal, subservient and with a degree in business administration to make her useful, and cheap, when she wasn't cleaning or running errands. Exploitation being part of her job description.

JJ's career had started as a host on the Disney show in Jamaica, the most popular children's show on the island seen by more than  . . . 700 viewers.

To get the job she had ruined the career, and probably the intestines, of an eight-year-old rival, with a friendly does of laxative.

In the main it is laugh a minute stuff as Jacqueline Jones, international beauty entrepreneur and wannabe star tries to explain why her life is going down the pan with spiv husband Barry on the run from the taxman and her hidden accounts trying to escape to join him.


We are even treated to her oh so short career as a diva, first nurtured by Barry, who had links with show business as he knew Bonnie Tyler's manager's accountant, and them her career was just as quickly ended by him.

JJ could never understand why although having seen it I can honestly say her version of Simply the Best  does tend to resemble Tina Turner doing the Haka.

There is a poignant and more serious moment though when she talks about being one of the few black kids in school after her  parents arrived here from Jamaica. Darkie, blacky, nignog were among the names she was called along with a teacher asking, in all seriousness, if she knew who her father was. But JJ tells us she came through, from ugly caterpillar to beautiful swan - presumably she missed out on biology classes for some reason.

It was refreshing though to find a play which takes a sideways look at race and stereotypes in an open and very funny way, which is as it should be. Did you know for example that all Nigerians, oh why stop there,  let us be honest, all Africans, dream of being West Indian? It's a fact . . .  according to JJ.

Or did you know that nappy hair and black skin makes  black people scary (think Spice girls advises JJ)  so a decent hair weave and a skin bleacher are essentials for the up and coming young black executive – such as JJ.

Had Debbie Tracey been white then I suspect the PC stormtroopers would have been hissing racist and suffering apoplexy, instead though we were treated to some closely observed musings, some clever lines and a lot of laughs at the expense of how we see ourselves and others and how they see us.

Directed by Steven Luckie and produced by Sharon Foster it even has Janice Connolly, Stockport housewife and mum of five superstar Barbara Nice, advising on comedy and characters - entertaining stuff. To 03-09-11

Roger Clarke 


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