Set on a south coast beach resort in 1998, Confidence tells the story of wannabe hustler Ella (Tanya Burr) as she attempts to make big money quick, so she can head to Hollywood to be with the stars.
Sharp, quick-witted Ella lies and manipulates her way through the play, using whoever she can to get what she wants. Or at least that’s what it feels like she should be doing. Burr’s monotonic performance as Ella oozes sass, but ultimately comes across as rather unintelligent. This is a shame, as Ella has the potential to be a real badass: the 18-year-old, who’s never short of a money making scheme, manipulates the men around her with her looks and adolescent over-sexuality. We see her contrasted with straight laced Ruby (Anna Critchlow), who proclaims early on ‘I just want to do the right thing’. There is real potential in the play to highlight the difference between the hard worker and the hustler and how they’re perceived by those around them. Despite this, the production lacks the pacing or tension needed to create interest in the narrative.
The design is a real highlight. Radiating 90s nostalgia, the shell suit jackets, dungarees and space buns create a real sense of the decade. The set itself, covered in neon lights, and a carpet which lights up under blue light has a wonderful feel, though is perhaps not as run down as the characters keep suggesting.
Shout-outs must go to Anna Critchlow’s Ruby and Rhys Yates’ Ben, both of whom work hard to keep the audience interested and entertained. Yates’ cocky but gullible Ben works hard to keep the pacing up in his scenes with Burr and manages to keep the audience laughing. Similarly, Critchlow’s hard working Ruby is endearing and hilarious in turn, and it’s a shame we don’t see more of her. However, with late addition to the cast Lace Akpojaro yet to settle into his character, and Burr lounging and strutting around the stage with no clear motivation, much of their hard work gets lost.
The result is a one-tone show, lacking depth or sub-text – making us question why Boundless Theatre have decided to revive Confidence twenty years after it’s first production. Personally, I’m all for celebrity casting: in theory, it offers a wonderful opportunity to bring new audiences (and financial opportunities) to the theatre – keeping the industry booming in London. However, a crucial factor is providing these new audiences with such an entertaining experience that they return to the theatre again – this time without the celebrity draw. With Burr’s 3.5 million YouTube subscribers, the marketing potential is real – I just wonder whether Confidence would have its audience members coming back for more.