Friday, June 03, 2011

Constant Reader, you can get set into certain ways of doing things.

Brushing your teeth, arranging your cds, putting on socks... and going to the theatre. You can settle into a certain West End Boy way of seeing things so in the spirit of the Arab Spring last Saturday I thought it was time for a change.

We left the smoke behind us to experience the untrammeled soil of the provinces. Um, Dartford. Well there *were* comps with my name on them waiting at the Box Office.Ah the years just rolled away to when I worked with the actor's agency and the countless excursions to the provinces to see clients in touring productions in theatres usually up sideroads and *never* signposted, joining the hardy perennials who did the Saturday matinees, that clatch of women in their prime who always wore their best Crimplene for their theatre visits - and God bless 'em for it.

Well times haven't changed and we joined the ladies who theatre, the quiet couples and the single rather furtive-looking men in the generic civic-centre style foyer of the Dartford Orchard for the quaintly-named FIVE BLUE-HAIRED LADIES SITTING ON A GREEN PARK BENCH.
During the play my mind wondered - it wasn't difficult - to the countless productions of plays like this that criss-cross the nation at any given time, and how - or why - audiences still turn up.

An alleged comedy by John A. Penzotti, it can be filed alongside STEEL MAGNOLIAS or CALENDER GIRLS, plays that can be easily toured with a standing set and a cobbled-together cast of ex-soap stars.

Sigh, what can I say? They were not blue-haired and they didn't sit on green benches.This is no reflection of our five gallant ladies of the stage. With the determination and guts that has kept them still keeping on, the titular-ladies were my very dear and close friend Miss Nicola Blackman, Anita Harris, Shirley Anne Field, Anne Charleston and Lorraine Chase. If you already don't have whiplash from the time-travelling involved reading those names, the cast was rounded off with Frazer Hines, Christopher Beeny and Tom Owen. I will let you have a breather after that.

Five women - some widowed, all lonely - have become friendly sitting on the same park benches in Washington Park Square. They pass the hours talking about their former lives and oddly enough their approaching deaths which I am fairly certain is the last thing on most peoples minds when talking to friends.So far so amiable but needless to say over the course of the year one by one the women disappear - and also needless to say with this playwright - the remaining women don't pass comment on their shrinking number until finally ex-jazz singer Lala, played in Nicola's best show-stealing stylee, is the last one alone. She is confronted by a stranger who tells when her former compadres died, tells her she is in fact now dead too and magics up a 60's sequined cocktail dress, a slash glitter curtain and flashy lighting signalling she can now headline in Heaven. Nicola obliged with a sassy rendition of "Miss Otis Regrets".

The second act finds our heroines reunited on white park benches in Heaven where they can now introduce their spouses to each other and clear up old arguments. Sadly by then the writer had totally run out of steam and was reduced to homilies like "Home is where the heart is", "Love makes the world go round", "It's better to have loved and lost..." etc. etc.As further proof of the writer's cluelessness, there is an over-reliance on references to famous stars: "Honey I bent over backwards for him more times than Elizabeth Taylor on her wedding nights", "You have more shoes than Sarah Jessica Parker" etc etc ad nauseum. Each name landed with a more desperate thud. His biog reveals he was an editor of Soap Opera Update magazine. It shows in his writing.

As I said, the women of the cast deserved better than the rather leaden direction and woebegone script. The male actors appeared late on in the second act and made no impression whatsoever.The leading ladies have a good chemistry together - and it's always a joy to see Anita Harris - but even their combined talents can do little with this wobbly vehicle.

Oh by the way, in the Dartford Orchard foyer there is a digital clock counting down the days to the opening of the panto starring Craig Revel Horwood as the Wicked Queen - no stretch there - and Anne Widdicombe as Widow Widdy.
"The horror... the horror" - it's hard to know who to be more angry with... the management for doing it, them for accepting it or the punters who will legitimise it by paying to see it.

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