Brighton Fringe 2009
What Would Helen Mirren Do?
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Susan Butterworth is a supermarket cashier, who is suddenly promoted on probation to service manager. She finds herself on a management training course asked the question "If I were an animal, what animal would I be?" Forced to team-work and goal-set, Susan begins to think the animal she would be might be a human one, namely, Helen Mirren, icon of the older woman, in a play from the pen of Josie Melia that is refreshing, life-affirming and overall, enjoyable from start to finish.
Josie Melia has written a charming, never over-sentimental, heart-warming play about a supermarket worker, promoted to service manager , who is attending a management training course which opens her eyes to possibility, as well as her own sense of under-achievement in life as she asks the profound question: what would Helen Mirren do?
Helen Mirren, is of course, an ideal, really the unrealised potential of Susan herself . Does she dare to step into the shoes that she was really born to wear, that her own daughter wishes that she would wear, before she is too old? Or, as Helen Mirren proves as a living example, are we never really too old to change and shine? There is a flavour of Alan Bennett in this writing and that is to praise and not denigrate the writer. Anita Parry gives a top drawer performance and never wavers for a moment in the simple surroundings of a desk, and a chair on the bare stage of the Hive.
Her storytelling style involves directly addressing the audience and her eyes are an entire performance in themself. Peter Ellis’s direction is economic and there is no over-elaborate stagecraft here. There is scope for some development though. Some of the staging is too static relying too much on the vocal delivery skills of Parry. Some of the physical set pieces lift the text off the page and draw us in to the story and there is potential to develop a few more.
Managers, trainers, and men, do not come off too well in this piece – managers are "rats, slugs and rattlesnakes". Around the single performer swirled a whole range of colourful characters; they come to life through Melia’s fresh, sharp witty writing, and the actor’s consistently funny delivery.
Helen Mirren, is of course the icon of the older woman ballsy and full of life. As a performer, so is Anita Parry. As a writer, so is Josie Melia.
The audience loved this play, laughing throughout and clearly warming to the main character. Anita Parry gives a full-on, attention grabbing and keeping performance throughout. Her eyes are alive with the character she plays and she infected the audience with her stage presence that was a masterclass in simple, character drama. To hold the stage in the unique but not necessarily easy to play venue of the Hive@Brunswick was an added achievement. The Hive is a welcome addition to the Brighton Fringe, but its lack of soundproofing sinply underlines how competent and charismatic Parry was in her role. Highly recommended. A show that shines and will get better and better as its run progresses. What would Helen Mirren do? Probably send six bottles of champagne to Parry and Melia and then go see the play.