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Posts Tagged ‘Jayne Ashley’

Bad Girls was a TV show which, between 1999 and 2006, had eight series and over 100 episodes. The sort of show that you’d expect to be a cult was actually ITV mainstream. The public seemed to take to its combination of serious and light storylines with a touch of lesbian homoeroticism! The same team gave us five series of Footballers Wives during the latter part of same period, and both share a larger-than-life exaggerated OTT style. After the final series, writers Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus teamed up with Kath Gotts on this musical, which premiered in Leeds before a West End run which only lasted three months, including previews. I quite liked it at the time, though it didn’t wow me, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to take in this fringe revival at the Union Theatre.

Set in a fictitious women’s prison, we follow the lives of a variety of inmates, incarcerated for anything from shoplifting to murder. Two of the screws are old school, but the wing governor is very much a new broom. Shell and Denny are the unofficial leaders of the bad girls, though the arrival of gangster’s girlfriend Yvonne challenges them. Officer Fenner uses some of the girls for sex and new inmate, young Rachel, imprisoned for possession of drugs with intent to supply, becomes his latest target. This leads to tragedy, a violent reaction from the rest of the prisoners and a blame game amongst the prison staff. There’s a sub-plot involving an on-off lesbian relationship between the wing governor Helen and prisoner Nikki.

The score was better than I remembered and the lyrics particularly good, and the musical standards were high. It’s performed by an excellent cast of seventeen. Of the staff, I particularly liked the bad guys – predatory Fenner played by Gareth Davies and his old school ally ‘Bodybag’ played by Maggie Robson. Sinead Long plays a very plausible con and Christine Holman commands the stage as Yvonne. There’s a lovely pair of Julie’s, responsible for the food, played by Jayne Ashley and Catherine Digges. The Union space doesn’t need much of a makeover to turn it into a prison (!), so the design focus is on Jess Philips’ spot-on costumes. I thought it was a great use of the space, in a traverse setting that worked a lot better than they sometimes do, and the choreography of the ensemble pieces by Jo McShane was particularly effective. My only gripes with Will Keith’s production is that it was nowhere near tongue-in-cheek enough, and overlong at almost 2h40m, partly caused by overlong scene changes.

It’s not a great musical, but its worth catching this small-scale revival.

 

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Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre had a great success with another rare and early Charles ‘Annie’ Rouse musical comedy, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. This was his first show, back in 1960, which I’ve only seen once, at Guildhall School of Music & Drama ten years ago. My starting point was ‘they’ve got their work cut out with this one’.

It takes its inspiration from Elvis Presley signing up to join the army. Here, Conrad Birdie is the singer who’s about to become a GI. His record company boss Albert decides to spin his story and create a photo and TV opportunity for a last kiss with a fan. Fifteen-year-old Kim is selected and her family all appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, where it all goes wrong thanks to Kim’s jealous boyfriend Hugo. There’s a parallel story about Albert losing his secretary and love interest Rose after eight years of doing nothing, largely to avoid upsetting his possessive mother Mae. As Conrad heads off to enlist, Albert finally gets some balls and chooses Rose over his mother.

When I walked into theatre I was instantly impressed by Andrew Yon’s design. It’s a red, black and chequered diner with adverts and records (remember them?) on the walls and 50’s tunes being played as you enter. Ryan Walklett’s excellent costumes complete the spot-on period feel. It gets off to a shaky start, partly because the material of the first part is weak (it pulls almost all of its punches in the second half), and partly because the playing style was a bit all over the place, some OTT, some too restrained. It does pick up significantly and is really motoring in the second half, with great choreography from Anthony Whiteman in Baby Talk to Me and the Shriner Ballet. The design leaves ample space for the ensemble scenes and I liked the band in view and (sort of) in costume at the back. It’s not a great score, though a few songs are familiar, having a life outside the show – Put On A Happy Face in particular, but A Lot Of Livin’ To Do and Kids as well.

When they’d settled, there were good performances all round, and the loud, somewhat exaggerated acting style suited the broad comedy of the material. I particularly liked Liberty Buckland’s feisty, sexy Rose (Chita Rivera in the original production!) and Abigail Matthews as teenage fan Kim (if they ever make a bio drama of Imelda Staunton’s life, she’s a shoe-in for the role). There are lovely cameos from Harry Heart as Kim’s somewhat overwrought dad, Jayne Ashley as the acid-tongued Mae, Benedikt de la Bedoyere (what a name!) as Hugo and Stephen Loriot as Kim’s young brother Randolph. MD Aaron Clingham has opted for more oomph with a band including winds, bass and drums and that seemed to suit the material without drowning out the singers (were those mic’s I saw overhead?) and the musical standards were as good as ever here.

This theatre continues its essential role of putting on rarely seen musicals. This one won’t change your life, but you’ll have a lot of fun, and who knows when you’ll get the chance to see it again.

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