Sunday, January 18, 2015


I was in two minds whether I wanted to see WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN at the Playhouse.  I knew that, despite it's unsuccessful Broadway production, David Yazbek's score had it's admirers but there was one major problem with seeing it - I loved it's source material too much.

Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 hit film was the one that truly brought him to the world's attention although I had already fallen under his spell with his previous film LAW OF DESIRE (LA LEY DEL DESEO).  It confirmed to me how magnetic and talented his muse Carmen Maura was and marvelled at her emotionally true but luminous performance as Pepa which was the epicentre of the farcical action of the film with it's array of madcap characters.

So how did I end up seeing the musical?  Because after last Saturday's performance there was the particular thrill of Pedro himself being interviewed on the Playhouse stage joined by the show's director Bartlett Sher, star Tamsin Greig and Almodóvar veteran Rossy de Palma - like, wow!

So... how does it transfer?  I cannot say I am a big fan of Greig - I always feel she is standing outside of her character, 'commenting' on it rather than playing it - or Haydn Gwynne who played the dangerously sidelined wife Lucia, but by the end I was won over by the élan of Bartlett Sher's staging and the obvious respect for Pedro's work.

Actress Pepa is dumped by her lover Ivan which throws her into emotional turmoil and her attempts to contact him are frustratingly unsuccessful.  Pepa's despair is disrupted by ditzy model Candela who wants to hide in Pepa's flat as she has discovered her Arab boyfriend is a Shiite terrorist sought by police.  Both their traumas are disrupted by the arrival of Carlos and Marisa, a young man and his controlling girlfriend who are looking to buy Pepa's flat.  In the true spirit of farce, Carlos is revealed to be Ivan's son!  if that wasn't enough, they all have to contend with the arrival of Lucia, Ivan's deserted wife who is out for revenge... Oh did I mention the blender full of drugged gazpacho?

Despite committed performances from the cast and Bartlett Sher's smoothly stylish direction, the action cannot help but stop for the frequent musical numbers.  Yazbek's songs have a vibrant salsa vibe and are socked across by the onstage musicians, but it's difficult to keep the farce moving along like an express train when both female leads are given impressive but slow solo numbers.

Despite my misgivings I have to admit that Greig certainly held the stage as the distraught Pepa but never felt she really was ever out-of-control and Gwynne's Lucia was certainly a larger-than-life scene-stealer.  Anna Skellern was great fun as the hysterical Candela and Ricardo Afonso was very good as the sometime-narrator and Pepa's ever-ready taxi-driver.

I also liked Seline Hizli's bossy Marisa and Willemijn Verkaik's hissable solicitor Paulina, Ivan's new mistress, but Jérome Praden and Hayden Oakley were both a bit too anonymous as father and son Ivan and Carlos.

There was also a lot to like in Anthony Ward's economical set design of Pepa's split level apartment, Caitlin Ward's character-led costumes and Peter Mumford's bright and eye-popping lighting.

The after-show Q&A was a delight with Pedro being very gracious about the show and explaining where the inspiration for the show had come from while Rossy de Palma was great fun reminiscing about the filming of what was only her second film.  Bartlett Sher was insightful as to the show's creation and Tamsin Greig explained that the singing didn't come naturally!

I am already beginning to think that I might want to see it again,,,

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