Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Jennie Homer as Dusty Springfield with constant companion, teddy bear Einstein. Pictures: Roy Palmer

Call me Dusty

Hall Green Little Theatre


Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, white soul singer, died 2 March, 1999, aged 59.

Almost 20 years after her death from breast cancer there is not much we don’t know about Dusty Springfield, so did we learn anything new in Derek Webb’s 2013 play?

Not really - pretty much everyone who knew her, and plenty who didn’t, have put their two pennyworth in, for, like Judy Garland, or Janis Joplin, she was damaged goods, and a flawed star will always beat a plain, ordinary, even brilliant star, when it comes to capturing the public’s celebrity-fuelled imagination.

What Webb does achieve is to put her life into some sort of order, something she never managed to do herself, through glimpses of her life and career, like photos in a dusty album, starting with her upbringing in a tempestuous London Irish family and her convent school education.

She sang in clubs as Mary O’Brien, joined the Lana Sisters, as Shan Lana, and then came her breakthrough when she formed a trio with brother Tom, the legendary Springfields. Mary, Shan and now Dusty Springfield, Dusty stemming from her time playing football in the dusty streets with the boys, and Springfield? The trio had rehearsed in a field in springtime – it was that simple . . . and sensible. Tom’s real name of Dionysius Patrick O'Brien did not really have that 60’s pop star ring about it.

The Springfields brought fame, if short lived, with the trio soon breaking up, Tom to go producing and writing, starting with great success with The Seekers and Dusty to go solo - and that is where the bulk of Webb’s narrative lies.


Tony O'Hagen as Dusty's manager Vic Billings

Jennie Homer gives us a roomful of Dustys. We have Dusty the convent schoolgirl, the folksy pop singer, the lapsed Catholic; Dusty the diva, even though she said she wasn’t, Dusty the awkward, the perfectionist, the self-harmer, the destructive, the hard drinker, the drug addict, the promiscuous, the lesbian and perhaps, as a result of all that, the woman regarded as the best white female soul singer of her generation.

Springfield was a complex woman who could appear fatally vulnerable, hard as nails or anything inbetween – anything that is except self assured. Insecurity could have been her middle name and Homer reflects that well; it is a big part and she puts in a big performance including miming well to a selection of hits

Surrounding her from parents to priest, manager to secretary are 19 other characters played by a cast of four. Her parents, Kay and OB are played by Linda Neale and Tony O’Hagen who pop up as Ready Steady Go producer Vicki Wickham, Dusty’s manager Vic Billings, a priest and even the chairman of a rough, Yorkshire working men’s club.

Jack Heath opens as brother Tom, morphs into a TV floor manager and Top of the Pops cameraman, to newspaper columnist then dress designer with Debbie Donnelly as Riss Chantelle from the Lana sisters, reporters and pop star and actress Polly Perkins. The pair manage an amusing interlude as teenagers listening to Dusty hits on their trannies (ask granddad if unsure) and even director Paul Holtom weighs in with a video interview as Atlantic Records boss Jerry Wexler.

Video projected on the back wall of the studio incidentally, with everything from the opening scenes of Dusty’s funeral to TOTP was an effective tool both for imagery and timeline while the cast did a fine job of producing so many characters with minimal props and maximum separation.


In concert, Homer as the damaged diva

Louise Price and Jean Wilde gave us some authentic looking 60’s costumes with the 60’s look enhanced by some period props – although did Dansette ever really produce their reord player in Dayglo colours? The GPO Trimphone was a nice vintage touch though.

The technical stagecraft all played its part. Hartop’s lighting and sound from Dans Honnor and Ashford all added to the performance, highlighting moments of drama or poignancy.

This is the first amateur production of the play, with playwright Webb expected to attend during the run. It is a play which appears deceptively simple to stage with a minimal set and small cast but don’t be fooled. It relies heavily on timing and characterisation as well as some fast costume changes by, in particular, Homer as Dusty, and all that is managed with no hint of delay.

As we said at the start, you will learn nothing new about Mary O’Brien, or Dusty Springfield, two sides of the same coin, but Derek Webb takes what is known and then explores what perhaps it was that turned an Ealing convent girl into the Queen of Soul.

For those of a certain age this is a wallow in nostalgia, Dusty was a part of our youth, with many a hormone-fuelled, spotty teenage boy refusing to believe she could possibly be a lesbian, and in her beehive wig Homer does have a look of Dusty.

For a younger audience this is a tale of a star who had the sort of X-factor Simon Cowell can only dream about - and more troubles than most of us can even start to imagine. Whichever camp you fall in to, there is interest from start to finish – and even a singalong and dance at the end! To 18-11-17

Roger Clarke


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