Popular stage and screen star, Denise Van Outen, brings her new one-woman show, Some Girl I Used to Know, to the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the first stop in a UK-wide tour that, on the strength of this performance, promises to be a great success.
The show is a mix of drama, comedy and music that takes audiences back to the eighties and early nineties, as Van Outen's Stephanie Canworth, a successful but dissatisfied thirty-something business woman, gets an out-of-the-blue Facebook message from her first love.
This sends her on a trip down memory lane; back to her teenage years in Essex, where a night out with the coolest boy in school (who was "as masculine as George Michael", as she puts it) at Romford's Hollywood nightclub turned into a long-lasting romance that changed her life, both for the better and the worse. As she reminisces, she starts to wonder where that young girl has gone and how life has worked out the way it has.
Throughout the nicely compact one-hour-forty-five-minute running time (including interval), Stephanie flips between the present, in which she argues over the phone with her supportive but boring husband, and contemplates a tryst with her ex, and the past; throwing in her interpretation of a whole array of hits from the likes of Culture Club and Soft Cell along the way.
At first glance, the idea of an Essex girl made good harking back to the (best largely forgotten) eighties to dredge up girly memories of an old boyfriend doesn't promise the best night out. But even for hardened sceptics, there's much to enjoy here; most of which comes down to the talents of Van Outen.
For the duration of the show she, or rather Stephanie, owns the stage; whether she's telling hilarious (occasionally bawdy) stories about being a teenager in the eighties, wrestling with emotions she thought had long been buried, or belting out rejigged versions of some fine (and a few cheesy) hits from the SAW years (that's Stock, Aitken Waterman for those of you not there at the time buying the vinyl singles from Woolworths or taping the songs off the radio!).
In Van Outen's hands, these songs take on a life of their own, as she draws out emotions from the lyrics that fit perfectly with Stephanie's memories. Stripping away the "pop-tastic" backing track transforms these songs into something special and Van Outen delivers them perfectly (and hats off to anyone who makes an old Sonia song sound heartfelt).
Cleverly, co-writers, Van Outen and Terry Ronald, have structured the show in such a way that allows Stephanie to address the audience directly. This serves to draw the audience in and makes it feel like a personal experience, as she chats away as comfortably as an old friend. Anyone around in the eighties will also get a particular kick from the abundance of naff cultural references. It should be noted the show is billed for audiences aged 12 and older, and there are a few points at which the content could be described as adult.
On the downside, there does seem to be quite a stark contrast between the first and second acts, with the tone shifting from light to dark quite abruptly as Stephanie's teenage romance takes a turn for the worse and things in the present come to a head. However, this is a minor gripe.
The overall feeling, as Van Outen receives her third encore and a standing ovation, is that everyone has spent a wonderfully entertaining evening in the company of an extremely talented performer able to make an audience laugh and cry, as well as leaving them thinking that maybe the eighties weren't all that bad a time to be a teenager.
Some Girl I Used To Know is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 8 February 2014 before touring throughout the UK until 19 March 2014.