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Review of Rumpy Pumpy! at the Union Theatre

Rumpy PumpyA story of two WI ladies who set out to empower prostitutes by going on the ultimate road trip to find the perfect brothel. Two sweet old ladies that could be your Granny out on a journey of discovery. What’s not to love? Sadly, it turns out, quite a lot.

There is no doubt at all that this show has a strong message – legalise prostitution – and the arguments for this are clear and convincing throughout. I was for the legalisation of prostitution before I saw the show but if I hadn’t been I would certainly have thought about changing my mind, indeed, the person sitting behind me was discussing her change of viewpoint very loudly at the end. The strength of the message is entirely owing to Jean Johnson and Trisha Deighton, the two real-life ladies around whom this show is based. Their passion and perseverance was admirable and, played by Louise Jameson and Trisha Deighton respectively, they really are the stars of the show.

The problems that prostitutes face on a daily basis were displayed beautifully by the clearly high Texas Tilley (Sally Frith) in Nevada and the sad and lonely Utta (Alex Roots) in Amsterdam. Where this part of the story falls down slightly is that prostitution is actually legal in both these places but regulation is insufficient, therefore somewhat diluting the argument that legalisation will solve every problem.

In fact, so much time was spent looking at these issues that the brothel in New Zealand that was seen to be good practice was glossed over slightly.

Interspersed with these scenes was the fictional story of a brothel back in the UK, and the constant run-ins with policewoman DC Hecks who is trying to shut them down. Clearly cast as the villain, the whole thing became very panto-esque, the nemesis of the heroic Madame suddenly beaten in the final scene. This leaves me with two questions – firstly, is life ever that simple? It seemed a bit too happily ever after to me. Secondly- in a show about the empowerment of women and the freedom to practice without fear should we really be criticising and punishing other people for different beliefs?

Speaking of happily ever after the show did feel a little idealistic. Whatever problems the characters had all miraculously resolved at the end and it all became a bit too much and a bit too cheesy – for a show based on real life it was remarkably unrealistic. In particular, whilst illegal prostitution is clearly more problematic than legal prostitution, the long-term impacts of any kind of prostitution on the well-being and mental health of working women were almost ignored completely save for one beautiful ballad called A Girl Like Me (but even then the issues were miraculously solved later on). All in all the whole thing seemed to trivialise a serious issue.

There was some extremely powerful acting throughout from a very good cast. Louise Jameson stood out as Jean Johnson for her quiet and understated performance which really hit home. Linda Nolan also produced an excellent performance as Holly Spencer, the over the top brothel owner.

There’s no doubt that the show captured the awkwardness as two worlds collide and this provided some very funny moments as well as some heart-warming ones. However, some of the humour just didn’t work. We know the show is a true story and we know it happened in the past so putting in jokes about the Brangelina split and Brexit just didn’t work.

Despite the shows problems, ultimately you can’t help but fall in love with the two WI women and their passion for their cause. The theatre is a great way to show this and it’s a shame that the rest of the story became a bit cheesy, therefore limiting the impact of the message the show was aiming for.

2 gold stars

Review by Emily Diver

A Tea and Crumpets Production:
Producer: Barbara Jane Mackie.
Executive Producers: Terry Loveday, Michael Loveday and Tony Steyger.
Director: Simon Greiff, Musical Director: Paul Smith, Musical Arranger: Steve Parker, Casting: Benjamin Newsome

Rumpy Pumpy! is Barbara’s first musical. Barbara’s screenplay, Cowboy Girls, a Western set in the 1880’s, gained support from Anthony Minghella and her first screen- play Mimi brought her to the attention of Working Title Films. Producing many documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4, Barbara, as Script Editor at BBC Birmingham Drama, developed the film Bad Company, the medical police drama series Dangerfield and Dalziel & Pascoe the much-loved detective series. She began her career in the Fringe Theatre working with comedians Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Barbara is currently creating her second musical, Cowboy Girls, which will open 2017 at an Off West End Theatre. She is also writing the film, Roaring Girl, about the cancer campaigner Jayne Sullivan.

Barbara’s novel Eat the View is out on Amazon.

Old Union Yard
229 Union Street
Monday 14 – Saturday 19 November 2016

Theatre Royal, Windsor
32 Thames St, Windsor SL4 1PS
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2016


  • Emily Gami

    I am a 25 year old Geography teacher who really loves the theatre. I first fell in love with the theatre when I was 15 and since moving to London 4 years ago I have tried to see as many shows as possible. On the rare occasions I am not at work or at the theatre I can usually be found on a tennis court or curled up somewhere with a good book

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