Work, love and life are one hard slog – in this highly entertaining play – for the fish-filleting foursome of ladies.
Their luck changes when Linda finds ticket to Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot – in York. Out go the hairnets and overalls as the girls do themselves up and head for the races. As the day unfolds, the champagne flows, secrets spill out and their horses keep winning. By the last race, the girls are on course for a life-changing win.
Pearl Pauline Wathen
Jan Christine Lever
Shelley Katherine Whalley
Linda Cynthia Hearing
Joe, Fred, Barry Pieter Swinge
Jim, Patrick, Kevin Robert Hall
LADIES DAY – review
Howard James’s production of Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day was slickly directed and engagingly performed.
There are only a handful of basic plots, this being the one about working class people escaping their mundane lives for a day on the spree, flirting with sophisticated society on a twenty-four hour journey of self-discovery. The excellent use of thrust staging and backscreen projections enabled the scenes to flow nicely, assisted by a near invisible team of well-drilled stagehands. At the emotional climax of the play, the director allowed racecourse backdrop to dissolve before our eyes. This was quite magical and seriously disturbed the tear ducts.
No one was being carried in this production; each cast member was on top of his or her role, switching effortlessly from life-affirming bravura to introspection. Nicely modulated direction allowed the gentler moments to come through unforced, in contrast to the overall briskness. The two men showed impressive versatility, both taking on three contrasting roles and their quick changes were amazing. The play generally moved cleanly and colourfully, scenes and characters never outstaying their welcome and, like Oliver, leaving us wanting more.
Sometimes the actors tended to ‘act out front’ and forget their responsibility to the audience either side of them. Top marks, though, to everyone for excellent pacing and northern accents – and one good Irish! Maybe it was the air-conditioning or the quick-moving dialogue that sometimes encouraged actors to pick up each other’s pitch and tone, leading to moments of inaudibility and a tendency for voices to chase each other upwards, thus interfering with diction and vocal colour. The problem vanished, however, when the characters moved into duologues, especially when released from the Fish Plant – set upstage and placing the actors behind the barrier of the working area, and in a straight line.
Pearl: As the older woman on the verge of retirement juggling a husband and a mislaid lover, Pauline Whalley got every ounce from her character. Pauline can make you laugh with her one moment and, on the turn of a sixpence, cry. Her Pearl was a truly three-dimensional and sympathetic character.
Jan: Christine Lever is fast becoming our local Marcia Warren – i.e. a very dependable character actor. Here she had the task of bringing out the various strands of Jan’s, somewhat under-written character, including her frustrated feelings for Joe as well as having to become completely sozzled – which she did very well.
Shelley: If Jan seems under-written, Shelley initially appears OTT. Katherine Whalley used her own physical plusses to good use as the wannabe X Factor star, who will settle for providing a rich and/or influential man girlfriend experience and earn sufficient cash to settle her debts. However, underneath the raucousness and bluster is a needier soul struggling to get out. A sassy and generous performance.
Linda: Cynthia Hearing’s Tony Christie-obsessed Linda was quite enchanting! The youngest member of the group of women, Linda is obviously in desperate need of meeting Mr Right, if nothing else to get away from her horrendous mother. Her scene with Patrick was one of the two emotionally most touching of the evening: an actor of range and charm.
Joe/Fred/Barry: I don’t know when I was so moved at Theatre 62 as by Pieter Swinge’s beautifully under-played scene as Barry’s ghost with Pauline Whalley (equally affecting). The moment we realised what had happened was theatre at its best by any standard. Nicely contrasting cameos from Pieter as Joe and Fred also – but it is Barry I’ll remember.
Jim/Patrick/Kev: Three assured performances here from Robert Hall. If I would have liked ‘Jim’ to, maybe, have been a tad more foxy and assertive, he was very effective as the endearing jockey, Patrick. As mentioned above, his big scene with Linda was a highlight of the evening. Good drunk scene as well.
This was obviously very much a team effort where individual roles merged seamlessly into the overall story in a well-oiled production. Congratulations to Maggie Mathews for coordinating it all so well as Stage Manager.
Jon Lewis’ projections told us exactly where we were at any given time without taking up any space. His interval montage was also a triumph. The effective minimalistic stage furniture evoked exactly the required look and feel. Excellent props from Ann Herbert too. Diana Quinn’s costumes were perfect, and the transformation from fish factory operatives in hygienic plastic and white rubber wellies to glamorous race-goers wearing fancy hats was very well realised. Ian James’ sound design also supported the production well.
It all ‘accumulated’ into a special evening of which Theatre 62 can be very proud.
Raymond Langford Jones