This is a play about a 50-something woman going through the menopause who winds up getting a job with a phone sex hotline called “Mature Madams”.
UNIDENTIFIED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA By Sarah Simmonds at the Old Red Lion Theatre
14th October – 8th November 2014
I myself am a 20-something man unlikely to ever go through the menopause (though I imagine that I may have to live with it at some point in the future). As for phone sex, no comment. Consequently, I was a bit unsure about this play. So unsure, that I decided to invite a family friend along, a 50-something female church verger to provide her own perspective on a fairly alien subject matter.
The opening has the protagonist Victoria Burnham (played by Jenny Ogilvie) with her legs spread wide, and talking (rather openly) to her gynaecologist. There’s plenty of innuendo, and a specula, and plenty of tense, understanding faces amongst the female attendees (I just tried to concentrate on his orange socks). Upon learning that she is going through “the change” (does anyone really call it that?), Victoria attends a menopause counselling group. Here we meet Meg, Polly and Anita. These other three women are coping with their “change” in different ways and all three are very different characters. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to learn much about Polly and Anita as Meg is so dominating; foul-mouthed and possessed of little feminine grace, one might go so far as to describe her as “butch”.
Meg (played by Paddy Navin) was a bit too caricatured; too much of a northern stereotype (it could even be offensive). This was the biggest weakness of the play – I wanted to see more of Polly and Anita but they quickly became forgotten as the evening went on. Having said that, Meg has some fantastic lines and can’t fail to entertain. The actors play their roles with gritty realism; figures from modern life are accurately represented. And yes, that mysterious woman whose smooth voice adorns supermarkets everywhere (and gives the play its name) is present and annoying as ever.
Ultimately, the play has a strong storyline crammed full with humour (not suitable for under 18s). The humour doesn’t, however, detract from the serious subject matter. At first glance, it seems impossible that middle-class Victoria (so middle-class, in fact, that she has a hard time deciding which brand of dishwasher salts to buy) ends up chatting away to faceless men on a seedy phone sex hotline. It is made believable because Victoria and her husband Jeremy (played by John McAndrew) are such well-written and strong characters that the story flows; I have it on good authority from my guest that it is realistic (particularly the gynaecologist’s room).
Playwright Sarah Simmonds has really achieved something here. It doesn’t come across as preachy feminist, and it managed to draw in the whole audience. I could personally sympathise with Victoria’s teenage son Harry (played by Andy Rush) who has recently started university and is craving some independence. Men will inevitably see eye-to-eye with Jeremy on a lot of issues raised. I myself feel strangely enlightened to many aspects of the weird and wonderful world that is the female psyche. That alone is reason enough to see it. At just 25 years old, there is plenty more to come from Sarah Simmonds and I look forward to seeing future productions. To quote my guest, “watch out for this young lady’s work; she’s something special!” The direction by Louise Shephard is competent, and the set designed by Kady Howey Nunn is fabulously versatile and effective in the small space.
This was my second visit to The Old Red Lion Theatre and I once again found it welcoming. It is a small theatre above a pub (though it is adequately soundproofed) and is a pleasant place to spend a wet autumnal evening. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to dress light – it gets hot up there. Perhaps that was just all the bawdy talk on stage from the Mature Madams.
Review by Samuel Lickiss
UNIDENTIFIED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA By Sarah Simmonds
Cast: John McAndrew, Joshua Miles, Paddy Navin, Jenny Ogilvie, Andy Rush, Kate Russell Smith, Edward Wolstenholme, Tracey Ann Wood
Director: Louise Shephard; Designer: Kady Howey Nunn;
Lighting Designer: Mark Dymock; Sound Designer: Harry Barker
Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ
14th October – 8th November 2014
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday matinee at 3pm, Sunday matinee at 2pm
Tickets £15.00 (£13.00 Conc.)
Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins (inc 15 minute interval)
Call the box office on 0844 412 4307
Book online at www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk
Saturday 8th October 2014