Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Fortified by a bargain bottle of Victoria Bitter, I join the Queen's crowd for this season's opening production – the “feel-good, laugh-a-minute chick flick for the stage” that is Ladies Down Under.
If you saw Amanda Whittington's Ladies' Day, also from the Hull Truck stable, you'll know that the ill-assorted mates from the fishpacking sheds had a big win at Royal Ascot. Now they're re-united, determined to spend, spend, spend and live the dream in Australia, where Jan's fella Joe is already in residence.
In what would be a pre-title sequence in the cinema, we learn that bush fires have prevented him getting to Sydney airport to meet them, so off they go on an odyssey through Oz that will see them “finding themselves” in the outback, watching the sun rise at Ayers Rock, and proudly joining the rainbow ranks of the Mardi Gras.
We can't help caring about the fate of these four feisty women, with their issues and idiosyncrasies. At Hornchurch they are nicely delineated by Diana Croft as Jan, who thinks she's been jilted, Helen Watson as Pearl, who has a Shirley Valentine moment with beach bum Charlie, Lucy Thackeray, constantly engaging as the ingenuous Linda, and Sarah Scowen as shallow Shelley. She's the girl who has most to lose, perhaps, and in a nice piece of symbolism is parted from her designer baggage, only to realise she doesn't need it after all.
One of the more successful extended scenes, although its outcome is a little predictable, has the four women camping out and discovering themselves – Pearl spouting Measure for Measure for all the world like Russell's Rita. I liked the way the women were suddenly travel-stained and jet-lagged, and even more layers were stripped away for the excursion to Never-Never. I was less convinced by the clichéd Chorus Line climax, done to a disco remix of I Am What I Am. In a welcome surreal touch, even the airport tannoy becomes involved in the dénouement.
Simon Jessop and Oliver Seymour-Marsh play four fellas each, working hard to change from surfer to drag queen, hippy Charlie to pommie Joe, whose dream of Down Under is already tarnished. I loved their airline stewards, gleefully subverting the safety announcements.
As usual at the Queen's, the design [Claire Lyth] is striking and effective, with the outback backdrop changing with the dying light.
Not sure who will love this show, getting its first professional outing here since the 2008 tour. For sure the fans who followed the Ladies to the Races. But it's not as sharp as Shakers, not a scream-along girlie night out, though it does boast four strong, ultimately life-affirming women, and some clever comic lines. Steel Magnolias out of Hull Docks, perhaps, or as the Queen's publicity machine has it, “Sex and the City meets Calendar Girls”.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews
photograph: Nobby Clark
photograph: Nobby Clark