Paul Johnson | 27 May 2019 17:13pm
Ladies’ Day is a comedy that introduces us to four women whose ordinary, mundane existence working in a Hull fish factory, is enlivened by an apparent spur of the moment decision to have a fancy day out at the races to celebrate the leaving (not quite retiring) of one of the workers.
It was first performed by the well-known Hull Truck Theatre Company back in 2005 and ties in with the one-off move of the Royal Ascot race meet to York in that year. Although it still works reasonably well in 2019 Grantham, there are a lot of references to people (such as the pop group Blue) and places that would have resonated more to a Hull audience in the mid noughties.
The play is dominated by the four female leads and is very much a character-driven piece with a somewhat formulaic plot that uncovers hidden hopes, regrets and desires in a series of duologues. Although the script has some great lines that would get any audience laughing it’s still incumbent on the actors to make the most of it and for the most part this was a success. All four characters had distinct personalities and these were effectively brought to life by the cast. Pearl, played by Allison Allen, is the ‘sensible’ member of the the foursome and it is her suggestion of going to Royal Ascot at York to celebrate her ‘not retirement’ that pushes the other three into an environment well outside their normal comfort zone. Allison’s depiction of a bland woman living an apparently bland but happy life lulls everyone into a false sense of security so that her revelations catch both Jan and the audience off guard.
Jan, enthusiastically played by Tami Brown, is an anxious, semi-neurotic single mother who’s only focus is providing the best support for her teenage daughter so that she can go to university. It’s only when she gets very drunk (Tami is a fabulous drunk) that we see what she has sacrificed and what she may lose out on in the future.
The character the audience feels most affection for is Tony Christie-obessesive and general doormat, Linda, played with perfect understated timing by Amanda Taylor who gets to deliver one of the funniest lines of the play. The all-pervading Tony Christie theme seems a bit odd now, but back in 2005 “(Is This The Way To) Amarillo” was re-released to raise money for Comic Relief. The Grantham team decided to go with it in full and had John Sheppard playing ‘Tony Christie’ and singing Amarillo in a couple of cameos during scene changes. It was a little superfluous to the actual play but it was a great bit of singalong for the audience and John can certainly belt out a tune.
As well as the music, the other live wire capable of socking the audience with high voltage was Evie Brown’s character, Shelley. She’s loud, cocky and abrasive and adds a vital energy to a play that could have descended into gentle wistful navel-gazing. Evie’s timing and expressions of disgust were perfect and were further complemented by her ability to open up Shelley’s hard exterior to show some of the issues that drive her obsession with fame and fortune.
The show was originally written with the six male roles being played by just one actor but GDS wisely shared the burden between four. The performances by Nick Croft as bitter but soft-hearted Irish jockey Patrick and sozzled Scottish punter Kevin were superb, nailing the accents and the humour of the characters. Tony Hine played Jim, the television pundit, as an avuncular minor celebrity that is interested in Shelley. This part could have been much more sinister with echoes of casting-couch manipulation but the decision was made to keep things light and perhaps that’s for the best in an essentially feel-good night out. Stephen Marsland gave a good dead-pan delivery of the fish factory manager, Joe, while Hugh Butterworth appeared as first Fred, the ticket tout (a proper shifty geezer) and then as Barry towards the end.
It was this penultimate scene involving Pearl and Barry that felt the most awkward; perhaps the script was too vague by trying to suggest something magical without being explicit as to whether someone had actually died or they were just feeling a bit under the weather, but the actors didn’t really know how to handle it convincingly and the dance at the end was anything but an emotional last goodbye (too much focus on feet, not enough on heart).
Another element that could have been better utilised was the small ensemble who only made an appearance in the key race scene; having them milling around in the background a little more would have helped give a better sense of a busy race meeting (and indeed a busy factory). But overall the scenes worked well and never felt too static.
Top marks go to Tami and Evie for getting very close to authentic Hull accents (where “oh, no!” is pronounced “err, nerr!”) while Linda were right Yorkshire an’all. Minus points, however, for several requirements from the cast for prompts.
The set was effective and well crafted but only really showed two locations. A projector backdrop was used to add variety to the scenes. The sound and lighting came to the fore with the introduction of ‘Tony Christie’ (any excuse for a bit of glitterball is to be commended) while the stage management was sharp with noiseless changes and no missed cues.
There was good attention to detail in the costumes for both the fish factory where everyone wore uniform white and the race meetiing which saw the four main characters dressed in bold primary colours to complement the top hats and tails.
Overall it was a very enjoyable production with several laugh out loud moments. Perhaps the script and direction could have been tighter in places and the lines a little better rehearsed but it was a solid performance that was thoroughly appreciated by the audience.
- : admin
- : 25/05/2019