It seems fitting that such a feminine play, in the broadest sense of the word, should be performed on International Women's Day. Looking at the various trials and tribulations of four women across three generations, Karin Young's The Awkward Squad demonstrates how much and how little the world and their values have changed.
Placing a magnifying glass on the female side of a working class family unit from Newcastle ensures a refreshing experience right from the outset. With Thatcher and the miners' strike of yesteryear measured up against Cameron's welfare cuts and 'big society' in the present day, The Awkward Squad is an original comedy that looks both backwards and forwards.
Grandmother Lorna, brilliantly played with dry comedic flair by Barbara Marten, was a tireless campaigner during the 1980s miners' strike. She is preparing a speech at a local community centre named after her, only to be surrounded by chaos after her two daughters Pam (Libby Davison) and Sandy (Charlie Hardwick) along with granddaughter Sarah (Lisa McGrillis) come to visit.
At first they seem to have all achieved something, whether it's a BAFTA award or simply having a posh car or a nice pair of breast implants. But perhaps the play's most resonant message is that anything gained can be lost and that there comes a point where all angels fall in their own sort of way.
The stage design is particularly inventive too. Text messages received from their friends and acquaintances suddenly pop up with a 'ping' on the backdrop that serve to reveal what's on their minds, as do images of the miners' strike and other pictures from Lorna's photo album, which lend some useful context.
On occasion The Awkward Squad is not always quite sure what it wants to be with some deep messages about the grittier side of life mashed in between lazy one-liners. Yet on the whole the jokes work, the parts are well observed and the story is both heart-warming and thought provoking.
Ultimately The Awkward Squad is funny and sharply written - a real testament to womens' spirit of togetherness and how perhaps, just sometimes, they really don't need men at all.
- Will Stone