Those not lucky enough to have enjoyed the naff golden years and dubious social content of 1970s and 80s television may not immediately understand the appeal of a one-woman show about the classically-trained Yootha Joyce, who found suffocating fame as sitcom man-eater Mildred Roper and temporary solace at the bottom of a brandy bottle.
Brittle wise-cracks mask deep insecurities
But for the rest of us, a sticky nostalgia for orange-spattered beige and anything synthetic runs deep, and in a script peppered with deliciously niche cultural references and flashes of the ‘tears of a clown’ trope, there is much to be applauded as the nylon-coated 1970s are brought to life by actor-writer Caroline Burns Cooke.
Burns Cooke has a spirited crack at taking on the born-in-a-trunk Joyce, whose brittle wise-cracks mask deep insecurities about her appearance and lovability. Her awkward double-entendres and stiff nudge-nudge asides suggest that behind the ready cackle was a studied vulgarity which served as an armour against her constant early typecasting as ‘brass, brass, whore, tart…’ Her eyes – encircled by the sort of bright turquoise crème eyeshadow which your Auntie Margaret used to get stuck in her creases and wrinkles – held an unrelenting intensity which suggested a pathological need for audience appreciation with a simultaneous exhaustion at being constantly ‘on’.
It was precisely this dichotomy, of course, which was to prove the psychological undoing of so many of Joyce’s contemporaries. And although we tend to hear much more about the emotional struggles of Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Charles Hawtrey, and (fellow Theatre Workshopper) Harry H. Corbett, Testament of Yootha is a timely reminder of the depth of talent and suffering of their female counterparts.