Science fiction conventions: a chance to mingle with like minded people, to relax in the company of strangers without having to worry about how to strike up a conversation because you can tell simply by their t-shirt or their badges or their costume that they share the same interests with you, that you can talk enthusiastically about the minutiae which is only of interest to fandom and receive the same excitement in return.
But science fiction conventions are also stressful; the hours are long, there is queuing, there are uncomfortable seats, there are long waits between talks, there is awkward conversation with the person you really didn’t want to bump into and uncomfortable silences when you realise you fundamentally disagree on a point – and that you are the one who is right! Whether your favourite show is Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who, they all encourage their devotees to be at their best, but with the added pressure of a once in a lifetime chance to meet the very idols who have shaped that life, it’s not always easy.
Though they follow each other on Twitter, Gene and Ash have never met until the moment they bump into each other in the hotel lobby of the 2013 Nerd-Vana Convention in London. Ash has travelled from Australia to be there, hoping for a chance to see headline guest Peter Davison, whose cricket whites she wears; Gene can’t get over the fact that she’s dressed as a man rather than what he sees as the more appropriate companion role. “I always dress as a woman,” she counters, “Except sometimes I dress as a woman dressed as a man.”
Packed with references ranging from the obvious Doctor Who to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, backed by a flipchart detailing the events of each day (“Mark Sheppard, Man of a Thousand Fandoms,” “Why we should stop mourning Firefly,” “Has Veronica Mars changed crowd funding?”) this is The Taming of the Shrew with sonic screwdrivers and a TARDIS travelling case. Gene and Ash manage to hit it off wrong at every turn, yet both know they’re nervous because they like each other – the question is, is that attraction returned? Matters aren’t helped by the knowledge that Gene’s ex is also attending the event, her presence signalled by the Master’s theme from The Mind of Evil.
Writer Keith Gow knows what he needs to achieve to tick the rom-com boxes, but still manages to make relevant points about women in fandom (“Slave Leia is degrading and attention seeking – why does no-one dress as Bespin, Endor or Hoth Leia?”), how the Mary Sue stereotype has moved from fan fiction into canon (“It’s hard to be impressed with a shopgirl when you grew up with Sarah-Jane, Romana and Ace.”) and even addresses the truth that dare not speak it’s name (“I don’t even think Colin Baker is Colin Baker’s favourite Doctor.”)
Suffering from opening night jitters and not helped by minor technical hitches, Cameron K McEwan and Jennifer Lusk alternate between reaching from lines and stepping on them, detracting from their performance and the flow of the script, but with increasing confidence both they and the show will begin to shine.
Who Are You Supposed To Be? runs until 26th August