Women on the Verge of HRT on National Tour

Daniel O Donnell, the Irish crooner with a fanbase consisting of hordes of ‘older women, apparently loves this play by Belfast-based DubbleJoint Productions. Which - when one hears Anna (Ann Russell Weakley), one half of the women on the verge, describing the sexual feelings O Donnell invokes in her - is hardly surprising. It must do wonders for the guy s ego. Playwright Marie Jones has based Anna on many of the fans she met who, she insists, “want him in their beds”.

Those expecting an O Donnell fest or an in-depth exploration of fandom, however, will be a little disappointed as that premise subsides and the play begins to live up to its title. For what Jones provides us with is an exposition of menopausal angst, two women whose biological clocks are gaining, with rather frightening momentum, as they face the reality that the inevitable cannot be halted. All this takes place in and around an Irish hotel after Anna and Vera (Helen Madden) have met their object of desire at one of his legendary tea parties.

It is Vera who initially has the most to say; her husband Dessy has left her for a younger woman which has accentuated the dismay she feels about her on-coming wrinkles, body sag and the menopause itself. Anna, it transpires, has a sexless relationship with husband Matty, who prefers to project his desire onto his collection of pornography, leaving Anna with no option but to turn to her own fantasy, O Donnell.

The repetitive diatribe of Vera and Anna is broken up by the appearance of Fergal (Paul McGlinchey) the hotel s waiter. While all three cast members get the opportunity to demonstrate their singing prowess, it is the gangly McGlinchey who instigates some audience participation during a fine parody of an O Donnell performance. In the second act, his role is elevated from incidental part to a banshee related medium through which Vera and Anna can attempt to resolve their crises.

Women on the Verge of HRT stretches its central premise to absolute breaking point. The play perpetually revolves and gets nowhere in the process. Jones seems to be apportioning blame on male attitudes for the way her female characters feel, although these two ladies are their own worst enemies.

Maybe I m too young and the wrong gender to ‘get this piece. There were certainly many in the audience who did empathise with the characters - all performed admirably - and the situation they were in.

Women on the Verge of HRT runs at the Theatre Royal until 31 October and then continues a national tour to Ireland, Perth, Northampton, Westcliffe and Watford.

Dave Windass