Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Hot Flush- Darlington Civic Theatre

Hot Flush
Book: Julie Benson
Music & Lyrics: Olly Ashmore
Director: Alan Cohen

Choreography: Roger Hannah
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The last few years have seen a plethora of theatre productions aimed at a predominantly female audience. There’s been ‘The Vagina Monologues’, ‘Mum’s The Word’, ‘Grumpy Old Women’, ‘Calendar Girls’ and ‘The Naked Truth’ to name only a few. Now, though, this uplifting celebration of womanhood extends itself to include the menopause in the form of ‘Menopause: The Musical’, ‘Women On The Verge Of HRT’ and ‘Hot Flush!’

Darlington Civic Theatre was filled to capacity last night as the latter, ‘Hot Flush!’, began a week-long stint at the venue. Needless to say, the majority of the audience comprised middle-aged women who were intent on enjoying an evening to remember!

The musical invites us to meet Myra, Sylvia, Helen and Jessica – four ordinary women who are each going through the menopause. They meet every Tuesday evening in a local bar to offer each other moral support, cry on one another’s shoulders, gossip and malign the men in their lives. Collectively, they refer to themselves as ‘The Hot Flush Club.’

A stellar cast is led by the irrepressible and multi-talented Lesley Joseph as Myra, a successful barrister, whose husband, Howard, has left her for ‘some big busted blonde bimbo.’ Miss Joseph’s portrayal of heavy drinking, heavy smoking Myra has the audience cackling with delight as she dispenses with any inhibitions and gives the role all she’s got.Hilary O’Neil plays Sylvia, an American woman, who having become bored with her husband Joe, embarks upon a lustful affair with Myra’s eighteen year-old son, Damian.

Anne Smith is Helen, a widow who struggles to cope with her lonely existence since her husband died and her daughter, Kathryn, left home to go to university. Ruth Keeling completes the female line-up as Jessica, the fat, frumpy church fund-raiser, whose husband spends most of his time in the garden shed.

Each of the four women delivers a performance worthy of acclaim as they skilfully wring laughter and tears, in equal measure, from Julie Benson’s script. As the individual stories of each of the women unfold and become interwoven, the comedy and pathos alternate in quick succession.

However, the show is almost stolen from the ladies by Sam Kane. His tour-de-force performance sees him play an array of male characters in a ‘revealing’ role that shows off the most pert buttocks that any woman could or would wish to get her hands on.

The inclusion of some witty songs by Olly Ashmore – one of which sees Lesley Joseph descending into the stalls to sing it whilst sitting on the lap of an unsuspecting male – adds to the fun and frothy frivolity of the evening.

The production combines elements of revue, cabaret, musical and comedy in a way that appeals to its target audience with aplomb. The set is simple yet effective and is made up of four platforms and recesses, representing the abode of each of the women. Scene changes are few and far between, allowing the storyline to dominate the evening’s proceedings. Alan Cohen’s direction ensures that the action never loses momentum and Roger Hannah’s sassy choreography adds to the overall enjoyment of the piece.

Although ‘Hot Flush!’ may be a risqué, raunchy, raucous rollercoaster ride through the menopause it seems apparent from the riotous roars of approval, which brought the house down, that the show strikes a chord with more than just a few members of the audience. It is the sort of show that works best with an audience who are prepared to enter into the spirit of sisterhood and accept the pros and cons of femininity – hot flushes and all!

Hot Flush runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 4th April 2009
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