Nichola Ward is someone whose work I greatly admire, so I was very interested when she told me that she was transforming her newest work, Jackie’s Not A Real Girl into a graphic novel. I was further intrigued when she announced she was mounting it at Buddies, as a one-woman show with images from the graphic novel projected onstage.
Jackie’s Not A Real Girl is based on the true story of a transwoman sex worker Nichola knew personally, who was first abused and then sent to a men’s prison by a spiteful and malicious police officer. The story is narrated by Sadie, another transgender woman who works in a bar and was Jackie’s friend. Sadie puts the police officer on trial and various characters pop up to give their testimony. All characters are played by Nichola, standing at the front of the stage while the graphic novel pages are projected on the back.
This is a pretty unique form of show, and it almost worked. The art in the projections was very evocative, but the impact was lessened by technical hitches: the projection was slightly larger than the frame of the wall, so the edges were obscured, and the image did not always flip to the next page at the same time Nichola did.
Nichola’s ability to play many characters using only her voice is impressive. She has fantastic vocal modulation. That does mean that on occasion she speaks soft and low, and at those points it was impossible for those of us at the back to hear. This was not just due to being further away from the stage, but also because the show was in the cabaret space of Buddies. The back of the cabaret is where the bar is, so the various fridges and other equipment emit a constant humming noise.
The venue is appropriate to the piece, as it is set in the bar, but it would have been nice if the stage had been miked, or if Nichola had worn a headset mike. Nichola is very adept at wordplay, so it’s a shame to miss any of her lines, and occasionally I felt like I had missed information that was important to the story.
Being a Nichola fan, and friend, I can’t help but compare it to her previous work and ultimately this did not feel as strong as Babylon Alley. However, I saw the second performance of that, so there had been more opportunity to polish any rough edges. Perhaps Jackie’s Not A Real Girl will be mounted again, and with more efficient projection work and with amplification, it will probably blow my socks off.
The timing of this production, however, was significant: November 20th is the Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, so doing this show at this time of year is relevant, and is a fitting tribute to people who suffer from transphobic violence and discrimination.