Saturday, June 15

Bombshells – The Lauriston Studio, Altrincham Garrick Playhouse

The Lauriston Studio has been a welcome addition to the Manchester theatrical scene over the last few years, giving the opportunity for the estimable team at Altrincham Garrick Playhouse the opportunity to stage productions with more esoteric appeal than can be staged in the main house. So, hot on the heels of their well-received LGBTQ+ season earlier in the year, comes ‘ A Season of Female Stories’, works written by women, starring women and about women, but hopefully not just appealing to that demographic.

The first offering this Autumn is ‘Bombshells’, a 2004 work by Joanna Murray-Smith comprising six monologues varying from a teenage mother struggling to cope to a 64-year-old widow slowly reacquainting herself with her burgeoning sexuality. As directed by Carole Carr, these stories are presented in isolation from each other, leaving the audience digested each story fully before settling on the next. However, this led to the evening feeling very episodic with long awkward gaps between separate performances, more time should have been taken to maintain the mood and somehow link each episode, allowing a more cohesive structure for the overall production. This fitful style was not aided by a lengthy 30-minute technical issue on the opening night which necessitated an early interval, and whilst the monologue style meant this was a minor inconvenience it added to the patchy feeling of the opening night.

Murray-Smith’s writing has a warm quality which shines through each of the characters in differing ways. The opening has us meeting Meryl (Elidh Pollard), a young mother struggling to cope with the expectations that the wider world puts on her to be ‘practically perfect’. The staccato delivery emphasising the increasing lack of control in her life was well defined and Pollard was vulnerable in her portrayal of a young woman trying to live up to the ideal of a perfect wife and mother and inevitably failing. Tiggy (Lindsey Barker) demonstrated a woman who has sublimated all her anger and frustration at her errant ex-husband by taking refuge in her local cacti-appreciation society, Barker gave the ostensibly innocent speech about the beauty of succulent plants a humorous metaphorical slant, relating their properties to those of the philandering Harry. After the enforced early interval, we met Ciara-Alexandra Booker who instilled energy and life into the audience with her portrayal of Mary, a performer with big dreams who isn’t going to let her minimal talent (or anyone else) get in the way of her winning the school talent show. Booker does well to disguise her own musical theatre chops in this portrayal of a spoilt schoolgirl, the high kicks and cat claws reminding most of the parents in the audience of endless tiresome school performances from a succession of wannabe stars.

Next up was Theresa (Kim Armston) as a bride to be, far more enamoured of the wedding dress than she is of her prospective husband Ted. Armston brought broad Lancastrian humour and accent to the role, with the dialogue being much more reminiscent of Victoria Wood than the Alan Bennett stylings we had to this point. It felt padded in places but encapsulated the stifling expectations and pressures that ‘the big day’ puts on a woman extremely well. The highlight of the evening for most of the audience was the story of Winsome Webster (Sarah Broughton), one of the army of ‘invisible widows’ who live their lives in quiet and lonely desperation following the deaths of their husbands. Winsome is different, she embarks on a passionate sexual encounter with a blind student whom she is assigned to read to by a local charity. Broughton is simply sensational in the strongest monologue, transforming from winsome Winsome into a sensual woman aflame with passion and desire, the performance was beautifully measured and all the more impressive for being wholly unexpected. Finally, Zoe (Annabel Fox), channelling her inner late period Judy Garland as ageing singer struggling with alcohol and drugs. Fox was realistic, to the extent where her purposeful slips, staggers and slurs felt genuine and moved the audience to anxious discomfort whilst watching this faded ingénue in action.

Without the necessity for strident feminist statements ‘Bombshells’ quietly and effectively illustrates the struggles that modern women have to conform to an idealised version of what they should be. Inevitably with a show of this nature, some of the monologues have more impact in writing and performance than others, but it is a strong opening to what promises to be an interesting season in The Lauriston Studio.

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 26th September 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.