Trudging up the skunk-scented Caledonian Road on an Arsenal home game Wednesday you’re aware how gritty are these off-West-End streets and how little has changed since the 1980s setting of Call Me Vicky.  Transitioning ‘Martin’ would also have looked over his shoulder in the under-lit avenue on his way to a bright and brash club where he could be safely himself.

New voices, female writers, a sensitive treatment of a transgender theme based on a true story are so much more than box-ticking and there ought to be a worthwhile play to emerge from this recipe.

Unfortunately, it’s a soup.

That’s not to say it’s unsalvageable, and rewrites may well develop Call Me Vicky into the new Rotterdam.  At the moment, though, it feels like a play about the 1980s written by people who weren’t there at the time.

It’s generous of the always-watchable Wendi Peters to lend her name to the project but as Vicky’s fag-toting, pie-eating mother she’s not given enough good material or long enough scenes to flesh out what’s probably the most interesting and authentic character in the story.  As Martin/Vicky, Matt Greenwood has a better time of it with more to work on, but essentially he’s giving a perfect walking audition for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

The story is hampered by the cardboard quality of the ancillary characters – does every drama about transgender issues have also to be set in seedy low-rent clubland where everyone’s a smack addict, pimp, tart-with-a-heart, thief or dealer?  It’s tragic if that really was the only place trans people could come for recognition and acceptance. What if you were trans and hated supermarket vodka or Donna Summer – you’d really be screwed?

When the story doesn’t fully engage you, you focus on jarring details.  How does Vicky go directly from an arrest for importuning to being in a men’s prison wearing women’s clothing?  No trial?  And in one of the most predictable characterisations, how does smack whore Gabby go from needle to euphoria without loosening the tourniquet on her arm?

The crispy crouton atop the soggy bouillabaisse is Ben Welch’s club host ‘Fat Pearl’.  Unevenly tottering on high heels, hairy as a bear and drily hilarious it’s as if Miles Jupp did drag.  He deserves his own show,  but this confident comic relief also serves to illustrate how much work the rest of the play still needs.

Until 9 March