Nicola Wren was born in Whitestone. She tells us this in her solo show Superstar, while dressed as a giant sperm reliving the festive evening that led to her ‘accidental’ conception. I jotted down Wren’s hometown in haste, but when revisiting my notes found only chicken scratch. ‘It’s ok,’ I thought, and proceeded to Google ‘Chris Martin’s hometown’.
That’s just a glimpse of the shadow that Wren lives under. As the youngest sibling to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Wren struggles to navigate her relationship with her famous older brother. She talks about how she’s strived to distance herself from the Martin name in her acting career, changing her name to Nicola ‘Wren’ (endearingly inspired by a Pizza Express pizza – I’ll let you figure that one out).
But Superstar places Chris front and centre, along with Wren’s other three siblings. Well, sort of: four chairs in the front row are reserved for VIP and are visibly left empty. ‘They’re just running late’, Wren declares as she plays a self-declared and somewhat deluded ‘superstar’. About to make an announcement, she notices her absent siblings and begins to examine her performing career and why she does what she does.
The resulting show is a funny, entertaining and straightforward trip down memory lane. As Wren reenacts her childhood performances (Bunny in Little Red Riding Hood and Mole in The Wind and the Willows) and outlines her ever-explosive career, she hints at another more seismic one running parallel, including the subtle entrance of a blond woman wearing a cap. Her siblings’ presence or lack thereof is a constant worry (and a bit overemphasised); when Wren realises they are not coming, she asks some audience members to sit in the reserved seats and play the roles of her absent brothers and sister.
Wren is definitely a talented performer, and she shines as she engages directly with the audience. Her quick wit and charm works perfectly here. Less successful is the slightly flimsy show-within-a-show frame. Wren repeats phrases like ‘I wasn’t supposed to say’ and ‘I’ve gone too far from the script’ just a little too much, and even she later admits what we all already know anyway: that all of this has been orchestrated, and that it is a show.
Superstar is in some ways Wren embracing her connection to her brother, and learning not to cringe when ‘Fix You’ comes on at a school dance. And yet, although she states how much his fame has impacted her life, she never really rewinds to spell out how, or to confront that shadow fully.
Superstar is also Wren weighing up whether the pursuit of fame or the pure enjoyment of entertaining others keeps her pursuing a performance career. But again, bits are left out of this narrative of life as a struggling actor. Although Wren talks about failed auditions, drama school, and creating her own work, she never mentions how she was able to do this, and the financial burdens that may or may not have impacted her trajectory.
Wren returns to her family once again. She comes to the conclusion that perhaps performing has been a vehicle to seek validation from her older siblings who once praised her childhood performances. In this vein Superstar is about growing up and coming to terms with self-told myths of specialness. She no longer needs that validation, she says. And that’s good, but perhaps more of a point of departure than it is an ending point.
Superstar is a well-performed, well-directed exercise in self-reflection. But frustratingly, it never looks outwards. Perhaps it needn’t, except that while Wren discusses how others have impacted her life, the inverse is never explored. You can’t help but wonder about the other perspective. What happens when her siblings actually do attend the show?