Review: Chewing Gum Dreams (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 13 – Feb 19, 2022
Playwright: Michaela Coel
Director: Bernadette Fam
Cast: Masego Pitso
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Fourteen-year-old Tracey Gordon talks a big game around the school yard, but really she is no different from any kid next door. English playwright Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum Dreams is a hilarious look at early adolescence, a stage of life where there is often, too much of a hurry to grow up.

Coel’s refusal of condescension in her comical depictions, makes us regard young Black girls with only respectful humanity. Probably the most underestimated group in many of our societies, this realistic and thoroughly natural portrayal of a person like Tracey, is an effective attempt at changing the narrative in the West, about Blackness, and about girlhood, at their point of intersection.

Imbuing the story with admirable profundity is director Bernadette Fam, whose adoration for Tracey is plain to see. An air of reverence for the character, and for Coel’s text, puts strongly in focus, all that is important about Chewing Gum Dreams, demanding of us a corresponding gravity with which to consider the themes at play.

Set design by Keerthi Subramanyam offers simple solutions to assist our imagining of Tracey’s places. whilst Kate Baldwin’s lights bring unexpected variation and dynamism to the visuals presented, on what initially looks to be a minimal stage. Liliana Occhiuto’s sound design is memorable for the melancholy that takes over our senses at certain crucial points, but a sparseness in her approach contributes to a slight deficiency in energy for the overall experience.

Playing Tracey is Masego Pitso, a captivating performer whose mischievous glint in the eye sets the tone for the production. Effortlessly endearing, Pitso occupies our attention for the entire duration, able to make us hang on to her every word and gesture. Her confidence makes us feel at ease, and the exuberance she puts into the creation of Tracey, ensures that we fall in love with the character even before she utters her first words.

A sombre moment in Chewing Gum Dreams, sees young Tracey talking about cracks in the floor, designed for people like her, and her mother, to fall through. It is a reminder that for many of us, so much of our destinies, in these colonised spaces, are determined by external forces that never allow our well-being, and our ambitions, to be a priority. We exist mainly as instruments for the advancement of their agenda. We are at best, stepping stones that allow them to further perpetuate their project of inequity, always merely dispensable objects in their estimation. Chewing Gum Dreams shows us quite matter-of-factly, the ordinariness of Tracey. Yet, what we wish for her future, is something that in most of our realities, would look nothing less than a rare exception. /