The Silver Gym has so many punchlines in it that the somewhat exaggerated characters (or should that be ‘caricatures’), although introduced as distinctive individuals with strong personalities, end up sounding too similar. There are, frankly, better ways to present the material in this script, perhaps as a one-woman show, where the lines as they are can still be spoken but from one person’s mindset, which is how it comes across in this production, as opposed to fully developed personas with unique trains of thought and expression. Direct engagement with the audience, as often happens with one-person shows, can add to the sense of enjoyment.
Judging by the audience’s reaction to the final scene, this show might otherwise, should a larger cast than one be preferred, be better presented as a musical. Music is almost synonymous with some types of gym work, and as ‘gym’ in The Silver Gym isn’t any sort of euphemism, but indeed an indoor space equipped and designed for physical exercise, certain songs can be song-and-dance (or song-and-exercise) numbers, while others can push the narrative forward and help the audience to understand the characters a little better.
My other reason for suggesting it would work better as a musical is simultaneously simpler and stronger. The plot, particularly the way in which loose ends are tied together at the end, lacks credibility even in a play meant to be a comedy (and thus not taken entirely seriously). Think of the way a dream is realised in the musical Avenue Q, for instance. Through song, it’s significantly less ridiculous.
It can’t go unnoticed that not every joke succeeded, and the audience’s audible groaning grew louder as the evening progressed. As the show stands, it’s not that we are none the wiser as to who any of the characters are; there’s an attempt at character development in Stella (Nichola McAuliffe) who engages in triumph over adversity. Well, sort of. Other than that, there’s little much else to be enjoyed plot-wise, and the exploration of anyone else’s character doesn’t go any deeper than surface level. Even the show’s main antagonist, Casey (Carol Sloman), becomes a ‘goodie’ in the end – again, the show is almost screaming to be fashioned into a musical. If Stella is meant to be an ex-Armed Forces, no-nonsense, bolshy woman, she could have been more convincing and substantially more abrupt.
As always for their own productions, the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch has put together a remarkable set, appropriate for the show. It’s a tight and hard-working cast – I was particularly impressed by Suzanna Bygrave as Violet and Peter Straker as Franklyn, both adding Caribbean spice to proceedings. And, mind you, if it’s a laugh you’re after at the theatre, this show is right up your street. The punchlines are relentless, and while many did not happen to appeal to me (they weren’t offensive, simply unfunny), there were others in the audience almost crying with laughter.
At certain points, the script comes across as rather lazy. Franklyn’s tune about ‘one pound veg’ (that is to say, a vegetable could be purchased from his stall for £1) is so similar to the YouTube video ‘One Pound Fish’ by Muhammad Shahid Nazir that it even references the exact same bulk buy discount as the superior original version. Elsewhere, putdowns about the size of certain other characters’ body parts felt very immature. But in the grand scheme of things, I’ve seen a lot worse at the theatre, and there were times when I did laugh heartily. There’s something to be gained from it, though it’s not without pain. Rather like a workout at the gym, I suppose.
Review by Chris Omaweng
QUEEN’S THEATRE HORNCHURCH
Presents The World Premiere of THE SILVER GYM
Written by and starring Nichola McAuliffe
Director Glen Walford
Featuring Christopher Biggins
This Spring, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch presents The Silver Gym, a rip-roaring new comedy written by and starring ITV’s Surgical Spirit and Coronation Street star, Olivier Award-winning actress Nichola McAuliffe.
Ex-Army captain Stella Silver is starting afresh and has just bought herself a gym. Well, it’s a building. With running water. Sometimes. Stella’s regulars are mostly in the autumn of their years, they don’t know their bench presses from their bus passes, dumbbells from digestives – The will is there but in the way is a good cup of tea and the desire to have a laugh. In step a crew of dodgy developers trying to get their hands on the place in their drive to make a fast buck. Faced with this bunch of unscrupulous cowboys, can Stella get it together to whip the gym and her motley crew into shape?
The Silver Gym also features the actress and stand-up comedienne Pauline Daniels and a vocal cameo by entertainment icon Christopher Biggins. Joining them will be Susan Aderin, Suzanna Bygrave, Kim Ismay (star of the West End’s Mamma Mia!), Houmi Miura, Carol Sloman and Peter Straker. Glen Walford directs, design is by Amy Yardley, musical direction by Carol Sloman and lighting design by Mark Jonathan.
15th April to 7th May
The Silver Gym
by Nichola McAuliffe
The Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch, RM11 1QT
Matinees | Thu 21 Apr | Sat 30 Apr | 2.30pm