If you’re in need of a good laugh or a heart warming tale, Wannabe is here to lift the spirits. A new film by Dorothy Allen-Pickard, director of The Masses – a visceral portrayal of three South Londoners’ and their respective devotions to three different kinds of faith: Islam, Christianity and football – Wannabe is a joyful story following a group of elderly women. Made with Breach Theatres as part of The Albany’s Age Against the Machine, a festival of creative ageing, the 11-minute short follows five women who form a Spice Girls tribute band to earn a few quid when a friend can’t pay the bills.
A docu-drama, the cast perform as semi-fictionalised versions of themselves, combining scripted dialogue with improvisation as they draw on their own experiences. Set against the backdrop of the much-anticipated Spice Girls reunion in 2019, the idea for Wannabe arose when Dorothy met the five women through the South London Cares choir. From the start, Dorothy, Billy and Ellice (the three counterparts of Breach Theatre) knew the film had to involve song and dance once she’d witnessed “some of their stellar performances live.” Dorothy tells It’s Nice That: “When we realised that the five women perfectly matched the different members of the Spice Girls, the idea for Wannabe was born.”
By telling the story of five older women, director Dorothy set out to amplify “a snapshot of real people rarely seen on screen.” Weaving in details from their day-to-day lives, Wannabe tells a story that accurately reflects their lives in austerity-era Britain. Anita, a cleaner who plays Scary Spice, for example, has seen her increasingly precarious job become outsourced more and more while her shifts are cut. “As a woman in her mid-70s,” says the director, “chances of finding new work in an economic system that favours young, male and physically-abled bodies are slim. The reality of struggling to make ends meet affects her mental health on a daily basis, and as anyone living in rented accommodation knows, there is little margin for error or misfortune.”
In early stages of the film’s research and development, Anita was not the only cast members sharing financial hardships. Other actors noted their economic difficulties, also commenting on how they felt unable to ask friends and family for help out of shame. But as well as underlining hardship, importantly, Wannabe is a celebration of the fabulous women’s humour, friendship and solidarity. “Wannabe foregrounds how they tackle poverty through creativity, compassion and collective action,” says Dorothy, adding: “In real life, the cast are thick as thieves.”
Constantly meeting up, checking in on each other, and taking part in various community activities, after a lifetime of looking after others, finally, these women are putting themselves first. Quite a few said that life, for them, really started in their 70s. While the arguments and tensions in the film are fictitious, the love and laughter remains factual, evident in the warmth and joy emanating from the screen. The docu-drama was approached almost like a play for the film’s creators. Running weekly workshops with the cast, their individual stories developed and blossomed to form the narrative of the film. “It was an incredible, transformative process for everyone involved,” adds Dorothy. “Without exception, the women discovered new performance skills and were often very moved by the improvised scenes that drew on their personal experiences.”
With this slower but effective process which allows non-actors to gradually come out of their shells for a film, the work of semi-fiction is an authentic and playful take on the experiences of the Spice Girls tribute act. Without a doubt, this is “the most enjoyable process [Dorothy] has ever had making a film,” marking Wannabe as a channel of light relief in exceptionally dark times. Online now and available to watch, indulge in the beauty and charm of this special short.