In a region so often replete with recycled and touring shows, it's a great treat to see some real, proper, local home-grown produce served up for the stage in the North West.
The Dukes at Lancaster and the Oldham Coliseum have combined with Ladybrain Productions to cook up No Fat Juliets, by Lancashire writer, performer and director Sue McCormick. It easily surpasses its billing as a "comic love story … packed with new songs, snogs and bags of Northern spirit".
It's far more than just that, and, like the best cuisine often is, unfamiliar to the palate and not easy to classify. The story is set in the fictional Lakeland Arms Hotel, somewhere north of Lancaster. This isn't prospering, just as the career on the boards of supersize Beth Morrison (played by author Sue McCormick) isn't. The hotel is run by Beth's dad Bill (Robert Whelan), a traditional gritty Lakes old lad who's also been left behind by the times, fashion and changing demands.
Then Calum Baxter, one of Beth's former directors and an old flame (Mark Jardine), suddenly arrives as a much-needed guest – along with Bryony, an hour-glass-shaped young cockney bimbo (Jemma Walker) who's obviously more suited to X Factor than Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
As Callum, Beth and Bryony tread warily around each other in the bar and lounge, a surprise visitor appears, and relationships reach an altogether higher level - in more ways than one. A well-wrought, Ortonesque deus-ex-machina climax concludes this very striking show.
There is some fine writing and characterisation in this piece, and the narrative is wacky, persuasive and a delicious treat. The garnish of suitably catchy original music by the Dukes' resident production manager, John Newman-Holden, was very tasty – I particularly liked his "Fat Girl Blues". The whole was served upon designer Alison Heffernan's intriguing set, and imaginatively lit by Brent Lees.
Most of the cast are familiar faces at The Dukes, and no strangers to working round and about in the North West.
No Fat Juliets is a great show: unusual, spicy and sweet, just like the local Bury Black Pud, Cumberland Sausage and the gloriously glutinous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.
If you can't catch this delightful if unusual confection in Lancaster before its run ends this Saturday, it's on again at Oldham's historic Coliseum Theatre between October 15 and 26. But the choice seats are vanishing fast …
- Michael Nunn