Friday, December 2

Tough Old Bird – Shakespeare North Playhouse

The dulcet tones of Michael Parkinson wouldn’t normally invoke a collective eye roll. But when it’s delivering the familiar lines of a certain advert touting the advantages of buying a pre-payment funeral plan you can perhaps understand why a shudder runs through the audience.

It’s a perfect example of the frustrations of how society views aging. And, with ‘Showbusiness and Gin’ running through her veins, Nana Funk (AKA Angie Waller who wrote the show) along with the ever-silent Val (a marvellously restrained Claire Jones, who composed tonight’s songs), is here to hold court on the indignities of it all.

Inspired by her own mum’s experience, Tough Old Bird, directed by Margaret Connell, looks at how people can, with the best of intentions, patronise and infantilise our older friends and family by suggesting how they should stick to activities that are ‘age appropriate’ – which, unfortunately for Nana, does not include headlining Coachella.

Looking somewhere between Mrs Merton and Elton John, Nana’s comedic stylings evoke the warm-hearted but deadly-sharp observational style of Victoria Wood. And she’s a terrific singer even if it may not be strictly true that she taught Lada Gaga how to play the kazoo. 

Over the 70minutes we have in her and Val’s company, they refuse to heed the pleadings of their well-meaning manager Damon (voiced by Trev Fleming), ignoring Vera Flynn covers in favour of Death Metal.

Nana’s hilarious efforts to keep up with her follow-spot operator are soon overshadowed by some more poignant reflections on the physical limitations that hinder being able to retain our dignity – from reaching for groceries on the upper shelves, through to having control over the people who help us with simple tasks like washing.

Faced with her own mortality, Nana learns to embrace her limitations, whilst telling the world what to do with its views on aging, in her own brash (and occasionally potty-mouthed) style.

It’s a riotous affair that has the audience in the palms of Nana and Val’s hands from the get-go. The wonderful songs are underpinned by Grace Goulding’s whip-smart movement direction and Waller’s own burlesque training which results in one routine that will never let you look at pop sock in the same way again.

One feels it should be a mandatory watch for anyone under the age of 40. But whilst tonight Nana is preaching to the (slightly older) choir, no-one could be in any doubt that there are plenty of those for whom aging gracefully is anathema and perhaps it’s time we let people make their own minds up as to what is ‘age appropriate’.

Tough Old Bird was funded by Arts Council England. For more on Nana Funk visit https://www.nanafunkrocks.com/ For What’s On at the Shakespeare North Playhouse visit https://shakespearenorthplayhouse.co.uk/

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 9th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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