SHE’S NOT SPECIAL written and performed by Fatuma Adar (HomeMadeIt Productions/Pressgang in association with Pandemic Theatre/Next Stage Theatre Festival). Now available to stream on-demand until February 13. See listing here. Rating: NNNNN
It feels a little strange to be declaring Fatuma Adar’s She’s Not Special so… special. But it is – and not just because, as a young Black Muslim woman, Adar checks off a lot of boxes cherished by granting agencies and theatre companies’ artistic directors clamouring for “more diversity.”
Fierce, frank and uncompromising, She’s Not Special sends up the whole concept of “Black excellence,” which puts undue pressure on artists, often forcing them to deal with themes and issues that might have nothing to do with their lives.
“Do you have trauma? Are your parents both alive? What’s your relationship with food?” sings an elegant indie theatre artistic director, also played by Adar in a neat little visual trick by director of photography Roya DelSol. “Trauma equals drama.”
This is seriously funny, telling-tales-out-of-school stuff. So is Adar’s point about how she’s a different person when she’s writing grant applications and having to stress a project’s “cultural significance” to get grant money.
What’s so refreshing about She’s Not Special is that it works beautifully as a film. It doesn’t feel at all like a last-minute-attempt to capture the original show on video. Director Graham Isador allows Adar’s personality to come through vividly – with every side-eye glance at the camera or discussion with a photo of her childhood self. And the songs (Adrian Hogan is musical director) are brilliant, each one captured by DelSol in a different way.
There are also lots of surprises – including one involving Isador – that are too good to give away in a review. My only criticism is that Adar’s voice isn’t quite strong enough to hit all of the soaring high notes in her mid-point show stopper Oreo.
But that’s quibbling. Give this multi-talented artist a Netflix special already. And if you disagree, you’re obviously anti-Black.