The Adventures of Time Warp Tammy, written and directed by Céline Nyssens, was a fascinating exploration of mental health, isolation and the commitments we all have to each other. Above all, though, it was a critical examination of the tendency for straight white men to see themselves as a protagonist whilst everyone else’s feelings, thoughts and desires are relegated to a position of lesser importance. It’s rare that a show that only lasts for sixty minutes can evoke feelings as strong as those by Time Warp Tammy, from deep loathing to an unsettling dread.
The play’s narrative is a difficult story to summarise. At first glance, it is about a woman who lives her life as though it is still the 1950s, ceasing to leave the house after her husband dies. The plot is built around a male social worker, called Max (played by Rory Yeates), after he is sent to investigate Tammy (played by Talia Simmons). Eventually, Tammy falls in love with Max, who quickly rejects her. This leads to Tammy lying to Max’s boss, who is also his girlfriend (played by Natalia Karampetsou), leaving him with no job or relationship. He blames Tammy for this, who takes her own life.
That decision made by Max- to blow up at and blame Tammy for things that go wrong within the narrative- struck at the heart of a recurring theme throughout the performance: Max’s treatment of women. He constantly disrespects them, shouts at them, belittles them and bullies them. One memorable scene involves Max abusively interrogating Tammy about the 50s; about homophobia, racism, sexism and the issues that plagued 50s society. His anger is so visceral, and his apparent blindness to the sheer unacceptability of his behaviour hints at the writers true intentions. Without a doubt, the 50s are a focal point of this show, but so too is the ostensible progress made in gender politics over the last 70 years that so often proves to be empty and baseless behind closed doors; a strikingly prescient analysis of the modern day.
The effort that had gone into developing the synergy between the set design and the soundtrack, almost made me believe that those elements came first, and the plot was then built around them. Whilst the performance as a whole is clearly a love letter to the 50s, dissecting the racism and strife alongside the charming films and style of dress, the set and soundtrack are grounded in pure, unadulterated adoration. When the story and events on stage are as harrowing as those in Time Warp Tammy often are, it is these lighter touches that keep the show airy and uplifting. Luckily, an almost perfect balance is struck.
I particularly enjoyed the thought that had gone in to Tammy’s second name: “Brittle”. It’s the kind of rhetorical flourish that you would expect to find in a Charles Dickens novel, when characters names were clear reflections of their nature. The costumes, too, managed to say a lot with a little. From Max’s vintage suit, to the iconic Kanken bag that signified the youth of minor character, every second of the performance has been pored over and perfected. It was a joy to watch.
The show begins with content warning, letting the audience know that it involves suicide. There’s no doubt that these are a crucial and important addition to theatre, but it had the interesting (and presumably unintended) effect of leaving me constantly guessing who was going to kill themselves and when. This really ratcheted up the tension, particularly towards the end when the inevitable was clearly moving closer.
Unfortunately, the suicide was somewhat of an anticlimax. Whist it didn’t take away from the overall impact of the story or the myriad elements of the show that couldn’t be criticised, Max’s performance upon discovering Tammy’s corpse left something to be desired. It must be an unimaginably difficult scene to act, but the show as a whole would perhaps have been better if the narrative was tweaked in such a way that the climax came elsewhere.
Time Warp Tammy is a show that, at times, I found uncomfortable to watch, and that’s something that the writers and the cast should be proud of. Everyone played their roles with clear talent, and the writing weaved together deep analysis of both the 1950s and the modern day, which is no mean feat. Everyone behind this show is worth watching!
Words by Charley Weldrick.