There is no plot, no narrative shape to this 90-minute show, so one never knows how much more there is until the final moments when the audience is enticed on stage. Only then can the un-enticed reviewer make, with relief, for the exit.
American writer and producer Jeanie Linders, a sincere woman no doubt, who has done a great deal to help women’s health, personal development and business ventures - how dreadful it is to feel unsisterly, but I’ve a job to do - introduces herself as the lights dim. She personally addresses the audience in the printed programme too: almost nine million people have seen the show, worldwide, since its modest beginnings in a 76-seat theatre in Orlando, Florida, but “Menopause The Musical is about women...not about theatre”. Odd, because we’re all hoping for some theatre.
Never mind, what about the first bit? Well, there are four women in this farrago, but they are stereotypes. In fact, worse, these cardboard women might almost have been invented by men with little experience of the flesh-and-blood variety. A businesswoman (Power Woman), an ageing glam actress (Soap Star), a provincial wife (Rutland Housewife) and a New Age hippie (Earth Mother) meet at the Marble Arch branch of Marks and Spencer. They have nothing in common except “the Change” but instantly gel, abandon whatever lives we are supposed to imagine they have, and launch into menopausal parodies of songs such as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “Heat Wave”. The band - male - do a great support job throughout.
The quartet are all dependent on valium or the equivalent, all worry about putting on weight, all learn to love vibrators and all suffer from low self-esteem. Hot flushes suffuse the evening with a ghastly glow as “tropical heat wave” is reprised in the “tropical hot flush” version. Strangely, no one mentions HRT.
The performers, all in the post-babe years, look terrific and zip through the queasy material with enormous humour and energy. Miquel Brown is a bluesy belter who can do a Tina Turner turn. She, Samantha Hughes (red-headed temptress), Amanda Symonds (well-upholstered vegan) and Su Pollard (gawky smalltowner) exuberantly whack out the numbers. Pollard, looking like a younger, prettier Dame Edna, is effortlessly funny. There are moments - such as when she speaks to her kids on the phone or wrestles with a skimpy basque - when you realise how good she’d be in a musical comedy worthy of her.
But this show infantilises women. Once again, they are made to play that old card: we know you are likely to laugh at us, so we’ll do it ourselves first. A change of attitude, a refusal to be beaten by nature, is signalled by the donning of nice little black dresses. In my LBD and with the help of M&S, I am invincible! Real life, thank goodness, is a bit more complicated.
- Heather Neill