THEATRE | Call Me Dusty – A Reverie into The Life of Dusty Springfield

LUDOS presents a show about renowned singer Dusty Springfield at Carriageworks Theatre Leeds.

Call Me Dusty at CARRIAGEWORKS Theatre Leeds. Review by NATHALIE TOLMIE-THOMSON.

Unlike most of the people in the audience, I wouldn’t call myself a Dusty Springfield mega-fan. I knew very little about her other than a few of her hits from the 1960s and 70s, and that she was gay. That was until I saw Call Me Dusty brought to the Carriageworks Theatre by LIDOS – a biographical reflection on the highs and lows of Dusty Springfield’s life from her perspective, along with the echoes of those closest to her. 

The production was evidently low budget with a static set (if you discount the purple table and chairs that were amusingly moved from stage left to stage right in between scenes to shake it up a little) but there were some genuinely groovy memorabilia including vinyl players, LPs, stylish telephones, and clippings from Ms Springfield’s heyday. 

The cast made up for the lack of material resources with a projector that displayed video, radio, photographs, and a very very very cringey documentary-style impersonation of Jerry Wexler who by the end of his Yorkshire-Southern-New York-Country accented monologue had me chewing my bottom lip right off my face. The sound engineering was superb though – I’m still not sure which effects came from the actual set and which came from the speakers.

Back to accents, I’ve no idea where anyone was supposed to be from at any point (apparently Dusty Springfield was born and bred in London…told you I wasn’t a superfan), there was a smattering of Scouse, some posh bits, and the most bizarrely unconvincing Yorkshire accent I’ve ever heard by someone who I reckon is actually from Yorkshire, during a scene at a Working Men’s Club. 

For an amateur dramatics troupe, the acting was mostly well done considering the budget restraints, but there were some stand-out performances, for better or for worse (and sometimes a touch hysterical). There was one particular actor who played several parts whose voice boomed regardless of the part he played, and a for a space as intimate as the Carriageworks Theatre it almost felt like being in a headmaster’s office after being caught with cat whiskers drawn on your face with a permanent marker.

Jane Collins’ performance as Dusty was heartwarming if not a little unconvincing at first, although admittedly it is difficult to play Dusty as a teenage girl when you’re a mature woman without a decent age-defying makeup budget. Her reflections on Dusty’s life in the first person swept us along with her, where supporting characters appeared as apparitions in a running stream of consciousness.

Collins allowed me to get to know Dusty, and in a way I may not have done simply by watching a documentary. It felt like the essence of her was really captured by Collins, and how she ticked behind the headlines, scandals, and gossip.

Having said all this, my absolute favourite was Shirley Hoyland as Pat Rose. The most unlikely manager figure you’ve ever seen but she was the most authentic to me in her sincerity and interactions with the other actors. Hoyland reeled off her lines as if she’d written them herself and flowed as naturally as if she was actually the Pat Rose.

At one point, there’s a scene where Pat and Dusty are having a long talk and I just longed for them to have their own sequel in an alternative universe where they didn’t have to deal with the drama of show-business, and Pat could be the mother-figure that Dusty had always needed.

The story was mostly easy to follow but I got lost a few times where actors strained to remember their lines…and there’s a tomato sandwich that makes an appearance which had me whirling into a moment of existential crisis.

I managed to get the gist of the major events that occurred throughout Dusty Springfield’s life though, and for that, I’m very grateful. The woman was portrayed to be highly relatable, devastatingly human, incredibly talented, and endlessly lovable – it’s easy to see why she has such widespread recognition by so many.