FringeReview UK 2017
Amanda Whittington’s 2005 eight-hander Ladies’ Day arrives at Seaford Little Theatre, directed by Dennis Picott with design by Alan Lade, lit by Gary English and Phil Armstrong who also supervises sound. Wardrobe by Helena Bell and Wendy Picott is equally resourceful. Till February 25th.
Dennis Picott brings Amanda Whittington’s 2005 Ladies’ Day to Seaford Little Theatre, with a neat folding design by Alan Lade, lit by Gary English and Phil Armstrong who also supervise effective racetrack sound. The wardrobe (Helena Bell, Wendy Picott) is resourceful, both in the fish packing plant (notably pink matching wellies) and contrasting hatwear on the Royal Ascot periphery.
We know Whittington for her 2013 The Thrill of Love, about Ruth Ellis, which enjoys popularity everywhere. But Ladies’ Day has done so since 2005, altogether a gentler feelgood play. To say Dinner Ladies meets Gut Girls meets Dead Cert might suggest a certain giddiness, but it’s as well crafted as these and giddiness is earned, often in champagne.
Four women: Pearl fifty-five; Jan single mother with her daughter at university; Shelley a reality TV wannabe and Linda at twenty-four cowed by an alcoholic mother, discuss Pearl’s quitting the Hull fish packing factory. We’re introduced to them nettily garbed for grim territory, with unceasing gutting and packing topping those blue-grey uniforms and pink wellies.
Cornered into send-off Pearl chooses Royal Ascot at York. Benign supervisor Joe (it’s hard not to think Dinner Ladies, though Lee Coleman-Powney’s wistfully different) pushes them to seize this sunny day, revealing he’s off to Australia himself. That down-under gesture is how the play’s dynamic upends everything so Ladies of Misrule for a day becomes with the plot perhaps forever and-a-day. Whittington compresses an incessant diurnal round into a sudden flip-over to creative chaos.
Having made the course fantastically hats-tricked, the women find a tout charging £2,000 (the first of Peter Barnes’ cameos) and an expensive handbag… with four tickets. They might do the decent thing eventually but not with the tickets. And they’re in, where they’ve bet extravagantly on an accumulator: six horses, bearing Tony Christie hits. We’re treated to these…
Whittington’s clever use of TV Pundit Jim McCormack – Lee Coleman-Powney’s other role – doubly functions as turf expounder and a sharp eye for Shelley, who snappily reciprocates. Even if she does call herself Sahara. Coleman-Powney revels in contrasting Joe with the raffish indeed rapacious McCormack. Cherry Newby’s Shelley is a match, fantasizing her way through a Flickr of celebs she’s met.
Between hoof-bursts is a different thunder: Shelley’s wish-list, Pearl’s apparently perfect marriage underpinned by a long-term affair with a bookie (hence her choice) and Jan’s already-hinted passion for Oz-bound Jo. One of two highlights comes when Pearl’s Angie Wright confides to Angie James’ increasingly inebriated Jan – a cringingly believable slump of a performance from James. Their interaction pitches to a touching, truthful portrayal.
Clare Forshaw’s Linda shrink-fits into fear and loneliness; her destructive, thieving mother her one occasional companion. Forshaw shades a low decibel ego perfectly: just above a whisper. She encounters Patrick a jockey as he mutters into a mobile, as solitary and undernourished as Linda; save that he’s got to keep his weight down.
Don Faulkner’s Patrick not only looks the diminutive part, his physicality’s palpable, as is his mercurial way with Forshaw’s back-off Linda, where gently cajoling and reminiscing he draws her out. His recitative of just one great win is exciting, funny, trimmed with pathos more than streamers. There’s pain too, recalling smashed bones and the death of a horse. By colliding vulnerable people who bond over banned sugar lumps, Whittington amplifies the track at a perfect pitch in the narrative.
Patrick’s riding Broken Dreams, last horse on the accumulator. A gambler (Barnes again) lurches across the plot eliciting unexpected redemption from hard-sell Shelley: you appreciate Whittington’s reveals, not just plot but character-driven. Meanwhile Pearl’s bookie Barry (kindly Roger Trace) turns up. There’s a waltz and piece of paper to prove it wasn’t quite a dream. As the final hurdle approaches, twists and falls spring up till we’re back at the factory for an unexpected denouement.
This production boasts outstanding moments, and high production values: the factory doors and walls fold out to an attractive sky-and-track with unfussy, excellent props. FOH in full top and tails underscores the quality.
Wright and James particularly together are a delight, and Faulkner’s pitch-perfect Donegal Patrick not only brings the whiff of paddock and angst but allows Forshaw to glint, contrasting her well-founded characterisation. There’s good work too from Coleman-Powney bouncing off the fame-ravening Newby, with Barnes and Trace firming the diversity of experience this nattily-packed play brings. Picott paces a mostly sterling production from a small house I hadn’t experienced, with moments of brilliance. There’s a sequel to Ladies’ Day, though its title might spoil the plot. See this; find out for yourselves.