Star rating: ***
A comedy-drama set in Wolverhampton, the perfect choice for Wolverhampton Grand’s own production. Written by Amanda Whittington and directed by Jason Capewell and Alasdair Harvey – notably, Harvey has directed this particular piece before.
The tale revolves around working class ladies who work at a fish processing factory. With the imminent retirement of Pearl (Deena Payne), it’s decided that the gang of workmates will attend Ladies Day at Wolverhampton Racecourse. Each lady has a story to tell, Jan (Cheryl Fergison) was abandoned by her husband, left with a child to raise and has little life to speak of, although she has enjoyed a few clandestine moments with their boss, Joe (Sean McKenzie, who goes on to play all of the male characters). Pearl has spent the past seven years enjoying an extra-marital affair with a Bookie she’d met at her colleague’s wedding reception. Shelley (Emma Rigby) is a wannabe Kardashian and in so much debt she has bailiffs knocking at the door. Linda (Roisin O’Neill) has a fly-by-night mother who turns up like the proverbial wrecking ball to stay with her timid daughter, taking her bed and stealing her money. Her coping mechanism is her obsession with singer, Tony Christie – she’s a member of his fan club and intent on choosing horses in the races who have names reflecting anything related to the man himself.
The gimmick with this production is that Tony Christie appears in person, singing his way through the show. Almost angel-like in his presence as he follows the action at various intervals throughout. The four ladies have a good chemistry between them and there is a feeling of solidarity between the characters. Wolverhampton accents aren’t always sustained though, I often noted a natural accent filtering through. There are also a few moments, particularly in the second half where the ladies’ lives began to unravel, which didn’t resonate as much as I would have expected. It was humorous to feature Sean McKenzie in all of the male roles, especially as one of the roles he played was a jockey who was just over 8 stone in weight. The irony wasn’t lost and McKenzie made the most of it, with the audience instantly in on the joke too.
The set was subtle, giving the ‘feel’ of a racecourse without detracting from the strong performances, although a few sound effects to add atmosphere may have lifted some of the ensemble scenes.
Cheryl Fergison as Jan gave the most memorable performance of the night, coming into her own all the more when she wound up inebriated and talking a mixture of gibberish and sense in the second half. Her physical comedy stole the show and earned an ovation from the enthusiastic audience.
If you’re looking for a local production set locally with live music from Tony Christie (you can’t not sing along to ‘Amarillo’!) then you’ve got until 28 July to get yourself a ticket! Book here: Ladies Day Tickets