Sunday, 11 January 2015

'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown' - The Playhouse Theatre

On Saturday night we went to see 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown', the stage musical version of the Pedro Almodovar film of the same name form the '80s. It's been staged in New York before but this seems to be a 'new' version of the play, learning from what didn't quite work in America. Now, the first thing that I was surprised at was that it was a musical - I didn't realise that at all, and obviously haven't been paying attention to the posters that clearly state it's a musical. So that was a surprise.

The story is the same as in the film with Pepa, an actress entering middle age, getting an answer-phone message from her longterm lover saying he's leaving her and that starts off the confusion. It only gets worse from Pepa's point of view, finding out she's pregnant and that her lover has traded her in for the younger lawyer who is representing his former wife in a court case against him. The former wife is terribly disturbed and distraught, living in the past and running amok with a gun in the later scenes. Of course, there's a lot more going on with the grown-up being railroaded into a marriage, a terrorist plot and, as you'd expect if you know the film, gazpacho soup laced with valium. It's all in there somewhere.

Tamsin Greig takes the central role of Pepa and is surrounded by a large cast of women with Hayden Gwynne as Lucia, the wronged wife of Pepa's lover. Men play a minor role in this play so it's a great opportunity to see an ensemble cast of women working together. The real surprise for me was Hayden's singing voice which is excellent - I never knew she could sing but she certainly can and not just belting out the songs, but interpreting them and telling the story through her delivery as well as the words. I was very pleasantly surprised!

The set reflected the primary colours from the film - and from the late '80s. Pepa's top-floor flat in Madrid is the primary setting for the play, with it changing to a courtroom and recording studio with a few props. Clothes are clearly important and, while there aren't a lot of costume changes, you certainly notice them, particularly Lucia's '60s-style clothes (since she lives in the past).

The interesting thing about seeing the play on Saturday was that it was followed by a half-hour Q&A with the director, former actress from the film and Tamsin along with pride of place going to Pedro Almodovar himself. The Q&A was broadcast to cinemas around the country in the Playhouse chain.

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