Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Ladies Day’ which is at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme until February 25th
They have a very particular accent in Hull. Refined Yorkshire. People make ‘Fern Curls’ to each other. And in this new, updated production of ‘Ladies Day’ the cast get that – and everything else – just right.
Amanda Whittington wrote the original play for Hull Truck Theatre Company in 2005 and her success is such that, rather like Alan Ayckbourn, she’s usually got one of her plays being performed somewhere in the world every day.
To be honest, ‘Ladies Day’ does now seem formulaic, but that’s simply because her formula is so effective, other writers have since borrowed it…including me. A group of well-bonded working-class women (four frumpy fish factory filleters) and one male actor playing all the men they come across….which gives Gareth Cassidy some wonderful material to work with.
Kate Wood plays Pearl, who has been processing fresh fish for Tesco’s for thirty years and yearns to enjoy life before it’s too late. To celebrate, she takes her work mates to a day at the races (in posh frocks and itchy hats) though they (and we) have no idea she has an ulterior motive. They arrive to discover its “frigging sold out” and four black market tickets are going to cost them £2000. But a little daylight robbery solves that problem. Pearl consoles herself with the thought that “it’s not stealing, its Karma”.
Annie Kirkman is sex-siren ‘Shelley’, the chancer whose twin ambitions are to get spotted by the TV cameras and into bed with someone rich and famous. But her bubble is burst by an indecent proposition.
Tanya-Lorette Dee is ‘Jan’ who plays being drunk so convincingly the nearby audience members must have been nervous.
And Jo Patmore is absolutely lovely as dowdy, gullible Linda who has naively come to the races with only a fiver to spend. Her scene with Cassidy’s kindly world-weary Irish jockey, desperate for a square meal, is a masterpiece of insightful writing.
Naturally, what has been planned as a high-spirited fun day out is not all froth. The women have issues which gradually emerge. A failed marriage, a bullying mother, a secret lover, spiralling debt. It’s the way these darker moments are woven into the raucous, witty comedy that makes this such a satisfying piece of theatre.
The script had been updated for this production to include some cracking jokes about the Royal Family. Innocent predictions that seemed eminently sensible 18 years ago are now ironically funny.
And then there’s the ghost of Tony Christie.
I don’t suppose when she wove some of his lyrics into her play all those years ago, Whittington imaged her hero would still be performing in his 80th year. The girls do a comedy strip routine to a recording of ‘Amarillo’ and the horses they back all seem to be named after lines in his songs. It’s fun to spot them …. though you might not want to back a nag called ‘Broken Dreams’.
I’ve carefully avoided the racing puns so far, but this thoroughbred play fairly canters along and the going is good at the New Vic.
PS. Just to be clear, Tony Christie isn’t actually in this show, but he is appearing at The New Vic in concert on February 20th.