Serafina Cusack’s play “Glitter and Tears,” which is currently showing late at night in the Surgeons Hall, is set in 2025 and the tenth year of a popular TV talent show. Although the notion that the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent will still be with us in ten years’ time is a somewhat startling one, we are already, there or thereabouts, a decade into these shows in real life. “Glitter and Tears” takes us another ten years ahead, partially because it clearly wishes to recruit the aesthetic of the fascistic, masses-controlling TV show in the movie The Hunger Games, and partially just to make the X-Factor seem more sinister and dystopian. The programme in “Glitter and Tears” is rather plaintively titled Britain Can Sing. It is locked in a ratings struggle with its nemesis Britain Can Dance.
I am at a disadvantage with this play because I am more familiar with the X-Factor from parodies and satires than from watching the show itself. Nonetheless, sitting through “Glitter and Tears” is probably not dissimilar to an hour with the original. Although we aren’t allowed to vote, each of the four contestants gets to sing and there is all the drama of the eliminations. Perhaps “Glitter and Tears” spares us the authentic awfulness of the X-Factor since there are none of the traditional soaring power-ballads. Instead, the droopy singer Felix (Simon Bradshaw) offers a loose caricature of Jarvis Cocker, whilst the gormless-looking Jarvis (Sam Bossman) turns out to be a Midlands rapper who sounds not unlike Alex Lusty.
This is a likeable play and the cast knit together well. James Ruskin is particularly good as the Mentor, a brusque, mildly diabolical figure who is constantly scampering about and hurrying the performance along. He is apparently just devoted to corporate perfection, to presiding earnestly over the perfect television show, but it would not be a surprise if he was revealed to have cloven hooves.
“Glitter and Tears” does not genuinely mock or satirise the X-Factor format, but neither does the play snuggle up to it with any warmth. It embarks upon a sternly detached, almost clinical study of an inadequate television franchise. The play later reaches a point of crisis. Vincent (Ben Boskovic), a likely winner of the contest, firstly starts a love affair with his rival Leto Lavender (Cusack) and secondly tells her a wild conspiracy theory about the winner of Britain Can Sing being assassinated in the finale. The assassination, he maintains, will be falsely pinned upon the contest’s great ratings rival Britain Can Dance. Leto is urged to sabotage her own performance to save her life. Her quandary is that (a) Vincent could be manipulating her in order to win the contest himself and (b) she harbours suicidal feelings anyway.
This striking scenario largely saves the play from aimlessness. I am still a little resistant though. Leto’s dilemma is rather like the Mentor’s formulaic “sob story” or “human interest story” which is meant to suck the public into becoming emotionally involved in these auditions. “Glitter and Tears” is thus paying the Devil in his own coin, all too plainly borrowing from its supposed target.