HOT (Helen of Troy), Cockpit Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Like many teenage girls past and present, Amy is riddled with insecurity about her body to the point that she struggles to see her strengths. She wants so desperately to have everything that her best friend Ellie has – popularity, good looks and a date for the dance. Fortunately, Amy’s super pro-active so she’s gathered together everything she needs to cast a spell that will make her pretty. Things don’t go to plan though – instead of suddenly transforming into a conventionally attractive girl, she summons an unexpected guest.

This is Helen of Troy, whose spirit appears in the form of a live, off-stage voiceover by Victoria Howell. Amusingly spiky at first, Helen gives Amy some rather conventional beauty tips that can be found in the fashion magazines that already inform her understanding of what girls and women should look like. As Amy battles against her body and the reality that we come in all shapes and sizes, she undergoes a more meaningful transformation – all supported by Helen. Her journey is often sweet and funny, but her girl-power metamorphosis at the end is glossed over through the use of song. Though music is used regularly throughout, there isn’t the dramaturgical structure in place to support a big, musical climax.

Amy, played by the writer Amy Clare Tasker, is hugely endearing and relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with their self-esteem. She’s also nostalgically funny to those of us who grew up in the 1990s – though unencumbered by social media, advertising didn’t have the diversity it does now. The importance that Tasker gives Amy’s looks in determining her self-worth is all too familiar to former teenage girls, and it’s this that gives the show its charm and power. Supported by Ilayda Arden’s unmistakably 1990s design – a corded, landline phone, a Spice Girls poster, and bright fluffy rugs – this show has a lot of heart even though it needs some fine-tuning.

HOT (Helen of Troy) runs through 8 February.

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