“Keep buggering on!” as a grumpy old Prime Minister once famously coined. It’s a suitably resilient attitude and one that the scowling members of the Grumpy Brigade, currently recruiting at the West End’s sedate Novello Theatre, would certainly like everyone to take notice of - and that means you, Private!
Bossy, no nonsense and bizarrely flatulent, Susie Blake, Wendi Peters and Jenny Eclair have reached their grumpy prime and are here to sort out emotionally wet Britain. Through a homespun tapestry of lectures, sketches and carefully contrived diatribes, these three eschew the idea of the domestic goddess to embrace the curmudgeonly middle-aged woman within. Comfortable underwear and an early night are the order of the day.
But it’s not all straight-laced sense; our ‘Grumpies’ take great pleasure in the wackiness afforded with the onset of old age. And with the occasional kitchen disco thrown in for good measure, this is also a very silly and at times delightfully childish show.
Most of all though these members of the Grumpy Sisterhood moan. Under attack? ‘Yankiness’ (wankiness and Yanks), and bankers (muggers with red socks and posh girlfriends), teenaged girls on buses with patronising stares and how women’s bad relationship with food is all His fault (God’s a man, obviously). It’s an amusing rant, but it lacks any real bile as these polished performers grimace and grouse with a calm confidence that belies any actual anger.
Owen Lewis’ smooth direction makes sure that each moment is carefully choreographed. But whilst he does a fabulous job of powering on a piece mainly consisting of grumbling, there’s little space left for any ‘live’ moments. Tellingly, some of the largest laughs come when the cast make mistakes and riff off script; as we’re bombarded by performances otherwise full of artfully crafted ‘fun’ giggles and burps, these flashes of spontaneity come like breaths of fresh air, and are some of the funniest of the night.
Susie Blake seems to be the most alive to these moments of real play – and most natural overall – and, although Jenni Eclair’s comedy is at times overly grotesque, it’s hard not to raise a smile when she likens her proudly homegrown tomatoes to being as tasteless and bland as fellatio on Tim Henman!
A little more umbrage and a little less shine would make these Grumpy Old Women real forces to be reckoned with. As it is, they’re as feisty as a Delia Smith crumble, but for the largely middle-aged female audience, obviously as pleasant too.
- Honour Bayes
** DON'T MISS our exclusive Whatsonstage.com Outing to GRUMPY OLD WOMEN 2 on 19 May including a FREE drink & access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Jenny Eclair & her Grumpy company – All for only £25! Click here for details! **
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from October 2009 and this production’s earlier touring date in Salford.
The title says it all. Take three women in their middle years (ie. over 40); add opinions, thoughts, and humour; and there you have it: a show that can make you laugh for over two hours.
However this end result isn't as easy as it sounds, as it would make very slim material. So, the three performers, comedienne Jenny Eclair and actresses Susie Blake and Wendi Peters, use not only their skills on the stage but also their very own experiences to bring this show to life.
Writers Judith Holder and Jenny Eclair have taken hold of subjects such as snoring, sex, insomnia and skipping and given them a twist to guide us through the worst of the recession and to come out the other side with heads held high. Nothing is safe: from the food we eat, negative equity and that bane of the GOW's (Grumpy Old Woman’s) life, him indoors.
The show is unerringly aimed at women of a certain age - some of the men in the audience were visibly cringing at times and there were things that wouldn't mean as much to a woman under the age of 30. But that won’t exclude both these groups from enjoying the show. However, for those of us in that right age group, this show will get you laughing in agreement and recognising several of those things we do, say or think!
The woman walk, dance and sit in a space reminiscent of a Fifties house on a set designed by Susannah Henry. The table is used not only to sit at but to sit on, stand on and at one point even becomes a catwalk for a recycled fashion show using items from around the home.
Director Owen Lewis has pulled these three performers into a tight-knit unit with a chemistry between them that enhances all they do. Their individual natural ability to laugh at themselves as well as with each other means that, although this show gets close to the bone, it never exceeds the bounds of respectability.
Closing with a kitchen disco and karaoke (with which the audience willingly participates), this game trio prove that Grumpy Old Women of the world should unite and take over the world. Count me in. Or failing that, I will simply have to see the show again when it returns to Manchester.
- Helen Jones
** DON'T MISS our exclusive Whatsonstage.com Outing to GRUMPY OLD WOMEN 2 on 19 May 2010 including a FREE drink & access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Jenny Eclair & her Grumpy company – All for only £25! Click here for details! **