by Amanda Whittington
Directed by Glenn Robinson
PADOS Studio Theatre
In the summer of 2005, for one year only, Royal Ascot moved north! This is the backdrop for the play and must have given Amanda Whittington the impetus to write this comedy drama about four female fish factory filleters (I love a bit of alliteration) from Hull who decide to take a celebratory day trip to the races. The play focuses on the friendship that has grown up between the four during their working lives, but we get an insight to the fact that they have not always been as open with each other about their personal lives as they like to think they have.
Work, love and life seem mundane for Pearl, Jan, Shelley and Linda, or are they? The four decide to celebrate the imminent early retirement of their co-worker, Pearl, and get all dolled up and head off to the races. We all know that having a little flutter on the horses is more a game of chance and good luck, and that is what the girls have as they arrive without tickets. But as fate would have it, Linda finds a purse with entry tickets in it, and they use them. As the day goes on and the champagne is consumed, each discloses that little piece of their lives that they have kept hidden. They also come across a variety of characters, from an arrogant TV pundit to a sensitive jockey. They place an accumulator bet, and if their luck holds, in more ways for some, they just might hit the jackpot!
The set design for this production was quite simple, but very effective, meaning that there was very little time wasted during scene changes that would slow the pace. The opening was very quickly established, with small work stations that the actors stood behind, continually filleting fish while they discussed events, as one would in most factory jobs. The boon was that these stations meant, that as the next scene into Ascot were to take place, personal props were all hidden but easily accessible. The choreographed routine to change from the girls in hats, hairnets, overalls and jackets into women dressed in their finest outfits ready for a day of fun was a hoot, and very well timed. Those coats hid the underdressed splendour of the four and this again meant no costume change in the wings that would slow the pace.
The static set for the races made a great centre piece for all other action to take place, and there was just enough furniture to keep the play interesting. The lighting, by Andrew Eastwood, was very good. Throughout the production there was a good use of varied colour for the factory scenes, and then the contract of bright whites for the full day at the races that gave the impression of a gorgeous sunny British summer’s day – I wish! There was a nice fading for the scene of Patrick’s race, and I loved the melancholy, but loving, mood that the lit glitterball gave towards the end.
Glenn Robinson, who not only directed the play but also operated the sound, did a sterling job. The pre-recorded dialogue between scenes again maintained pace. A scripted, running theme throughout this production was that music and horse names were by one artist - I didn’t realise that Tony Christie had so many hits!
Each character had a secret. Justine Boardman portrayed the retiring, Pearl, with quiet and relaxed ease, giving the impression that she was a content and happy wife. You would never guess that her secret is that she has had an ongoing affair with Barry. Justine was demur but quite expressive in her interaction with the other characters and made you feel that her loss of a love was real.
Glamourous Shelley seemed to have many problems, the main one being that she was flat broke, and that the bailiffs had been round. All she was interested in was meeting a handsome, and preferably rich, man. Lisa Barlow in this role provided many of the laugh-out-loud lines. Her quick adoption of the pseudonym, Sahara, was quite a giggle, and reminded me of some people who do this on a night out.
Emily Price was the naïve, obsessed Tony Christie fan, Linda. There was an air of vulnerability about her, but this we understood was that she, Linda, had let her controlling and duplicitous mother back into her life. The scene where she finds a soul mate in Patrick, a jockey, was quite touching, and I think we all felt a degree of warmth for the character.
I had not seen this play before but one of the stand out moments for me was a look, very early on in the play. Louise Robinson’s character of Jan, a devoted single mother, has no other interests other than her academically ambitious daughter. Or has she? With impending empty nest syndrome looming large in the not too distant future, she is obviously thinking of life afterwards. There was a look from Louise to Stephen Moss (her hidden love, Joe) during their dialogue in the first scene that made me think that they should become an item in this play. Many of the physical comedy moments were provided by Louise, from the typical mother who is ready with pre-packed lunches and drinks for everyone, to the falling off her heels after one too many glasses of fizz. I am sure that, from the giggles in the audience, there were a few people who could relate to that image.
The other six characters were equally divided between Stephen Moss and Adam Green. Each actor had put thought into their individual characters and not only changed costume but also voice, accents, style, pace and tone in their delivery. This is not always an easy thing to achieve, and to do so requires actors who have the ability to be versatile.
This play certainly has comedy within the situation that people find themselves in during life, but it also has a reflective element to it, that we all have friends, but do we know them as well as we think we do?
May I thank you all for your hospitality and I look forward to visiting next season.