Thursday, 8 October 2009

Ladies Day - Queens Theatre, Hornchurch

Ladies' Day
Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: Matt Devitt
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day was first produced by Hill Truck in 2005 and is now being revived at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, under the direction of Matt Devitt.

The play concentrates on the lives of four manual workers in a fish packing plant near Hull. Jan (played beautifully by Jane Milligan), Shelley (Sarah Scowen), Linda (Lucy Thackeray) and Pearl (Helen Watson); who upon being asked what she would like to do in celebration of her impending departure from work decides she wants to attend Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot. In the interview published in the programme, Whittington discusses the fact that the play, although set at Royal Ascot, ‘…is NOT posh.

The main characters are all working women, who swap their factory wellies and overalls for a glamorous day out. They’re fish out of water at Royal Ascot but that’s part of the fun. We take them into a high society setting and see how they react.’ Whittington has updated the script for this revival, bringing the popular culture references right up-to-date. The transformation sequence from factory-whites to glamorous frocks is performed to Tony Christie’s ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo?’, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the production as Linda is a member of the Tony Christie Fan Club!

Thackeray’s performance of Linda is wonderfully naïve, and her voice is eerily reminiscent of a young Jane Horrocks. The ladies make their way to Ascot, and through some underhanded means and an unfortunate encounter with a ticket tout get into the enclosure. Shelley (played with great energy by Sarah Scowen) subsequently gets the girls acquainted with a television racing pundit – a caricatured, or rather muted version on a certain old-Etonian Ch4 pundit who shall remain misnamed as Jim McCormack…and finds herself in a casting couch situation.

‘All the Men’ are played with a wonderful lightness of touch by Simon Jessop who often has lightning quick costume changes. He deftly utilizes the comedic moments to great effect, playing off the reactions from the audience. Jane Milligan’s character Jan descends into a drunken stupor, making inebriated declarations of affection as well as divulging several secrets along the way. The drunkenness was charmingly clumsy and included some fantastic moments of physical comedy that prompted huge applause from the audience.

My only reservations about the production were the design and one plot point. The set, although beautifully constructed and at times used for comedy effect by Matt Devitt’s direction, often left me feeling that the actors were isolated on stage. The intimacy of some sections of the dialogue was lost due to the vastness of the empty space.

The lack of an ensemble crowd for the busier Ascot scenes was highlighted by the use of costumed and bewigged mannequins who drew the eye away from the action. The plot point is Pearl’s realization scene with Barry which jars a little stylistically, at is pulls us out of the everyday and into the metaphysical. Otherwise, this production of Ladies’ Day culminates in a joyous climax nicely tying up all the loose ends and sending you home with a spring in your step.

Runs until 17th Oct
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