There are one-person shows, and there is Shida. I went in fresh to this, knowing only it was a musical devised, written and performed by Jeannette Bayardelle.
The story of Shida, one character of many in this short (75 minute) piece, is a familiar one of innocence and knowing, rise and fall, ambition and pain, and ultimate survival.
When we first meet her, she’s a child, playing hopscotch, a whirlwind of energy which her mom, her teacher, and new best friend Jackie have to keep grounded. Her destiny as a bright and precocious child is to be a writer.
Men mistreat her. Daddy has another four children with a wife, with Shida and her mom as “the other woman/the other girl”. Uncle Steve stands too close and ignores pleas not “to touch me like that”. White boyfriend Joe gets her hooked to her crack pipe.
Shida tells its story through song and characters, with the intensity of being right there in the room as events happy and traumatic chip away to reveal the vulnerable core beneath.
There in the room with Uncle Steve. There in the hospital three pivotal times. There on the streets, as Bayardelle breaks the fourth wall twice: one as Jackie, rubbishing Shida’s dalliance with a butch lesbian, then as Shida herself, begging tricks.
Shida is an incredible piece of writing, years in the making and developed by the leading lady with her director Andy Sandberg. Accompanied by MD Noam Galperin and a small band, there is nowhere to hide in this boutique venue. The music is loud. The singing is jaw-dropping. The plot is emotionally devastating, in the end.
I’m glad this made the transition from New York, although I still find the venue a bit odd and definitely laidback (the matinee started fifteen minutes late and no reason was given). The use of props for characters: patterned skirt, dress, grad cap, beanie hat, specs, a box, a bracelet, a shawl, a book, brings the women to life. The men are voiceless.
But it was worth it. As Ms Bayardelle herself said in a brief break of character for a pause and water, “Jesus, this is hard work!”. It shows in every sinew, every bead of sweat and every big, big note.
True stories: Jackie/Jeannette did become a great singer, and her friend Shida conquered her demons.
Shida continues at The Vaults until 13 October.