Tag Archives: Jodie Prenger

REVIEW: Abigail’s Party – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

If ever there was a play that was well and truly burned into the memory of all those who saw it, Mike Leigh’s 1970s masterpiece, Abigail’s Party is it. There are few who haven’t seen the 1977 BBC Play For Today production of the stage play, who can’t recite a plethora of our leading lady Beverly’s famously barbed lines (16 million people watched the original broadcast alone): “Laurence…Angela likes Demis Roussos, Tony likes Demis Roussos, I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: so please, do you think we could have Demis Roussos on?” “Cheesy pineapple?” – the two words alone got a roar of laughter from the expectant crowd as does the moment when Beverly pops off to chill the Beaujolais. With Leigh’s then-wife Alison Steadman’s once seen (and heard), never forgotten performance so synonymous with the role, those that follow in her gold strappy sandalled footsteps invariably suffer in comparison.

It’s the dinner party from hell where the clearly bored, bitchy, utterly unhappy, suburban social climber Beverly, is hosting neighbours Angela and her husband Tony, and Susan, mother of the titular Abigail who’s having her first teenage party a few doors down. The evening descends into the most cringe-worthy example of social torture as Beverly demeans her uptight, reserved husband Lawrence, belittles both Susan and Angela and tries to seduce neighbour Tony.

Jodie Prenger wafts around Janet Bird’s highly detailed brown and orange, sheepskin rugged, wood-clad walled set in a colour-co-ordinating Paisley patterned kaftan and eye-popping blue eyeshadow. Prenger manages to produce a fair impersonation of Beverly’s nasal whine but overall hers is a more low key, less passively aggressive portrayal. While highly competent, it lacks a bit of the physical energy (and sharpness of timing) that would have truly made this gathering nerve-shredding. Daniel Casey is Lawrence, whose descent into utter contempt for his crass wife is very well-judged. TV soap veteran Vicky Binns’ Angela is a fawning sycophant to the older Beverly, who laps up every compliment while throwing thinly disguised barbs back at her young neighbour. Calum Callaghan’s monosyllabic Tony is an eerily accurate portrayal of a quietly abusive husband and Rose Keegan’s  truly middle class Susan is perfectly pitched, every line is delivered perfectly on point.

It may feel to some that Abigail’s Party perfectly preserves in aspic an era in British social history, when class barriers were supposedly being broken down and the ‘upwardly mobile’ were well and truly on the rise. But, it also speaks at a deeper level of how far and how little women’s freedom has come in the 40+ years since the play was written.

Abigail’s Party is the perfect example of something so well-written, that it still has the power (in a very different world) to be hugely entertaining, decades on from its creation.

Runs until 9 February 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan 



REVIEW: Fat Friends The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on Kay Mellor’s 2000 TV Show about the lives of the members of a Leeds slimming club, Fat Friends has now had the musical theatre treatment.

It’s six weeks shy of Kelly’s wedding and she’s ready to float down the aisle in her dream dress. However, there’s a not inconsiderable problem – it doesn’t fit. Cue, signing up to a slimming club. There she meets a rag-bag mix of misfits all with problems of their own.

On the surface, Fat Friends is an entertaining, escapist evening at the theatre. However, as with much of Mellor’s work, it is always deeper than it seems. Scratch beneath the surface and there’s a deeper core. In this case addressing the issues of body image, fat shaming and exploitation by the diet industry. The issues of social media trolling are also tackled, something the source material never had to deal with. There’s a resonance for anyone who has had to count the calories. Well written, if over-long and a bit broad and coarse at times, it avoids being preachy but still manages to communicate a message under the candy floss.

Nick Lloyd Webber’s score (yes, son of you-know-who) is absolutely excellent, don’t be deceived by titles such as: Diets Are Crap, Big and Battered, sung in a chip shop, and Corset Song, understated they ain’t, but they’re catchy, beautifully layered musically and fit the narrative (if a bit classy for the script). I’m not sure if I imagined it but there was a little glimmer of Lloyd Webber Snr’s Take That Look Off Your Face at one point.

The rolling cast (some actors only appear at certain venues) are uniformly entertaining and have some of the best sounding voices to grace the stages of the UK in recent years. In Scotland, veteran local actress Elaine C. Smith replaces Sam Bailey as Kelly’s mother, the ubiquitous Smith who is becoming a predictable stand-in when actors get a nosebleed travelling north of the border is excellent. Prenger is a metaphorically larger than life Kelly and her much-lauded voice is as strong as ever. Natalie Anderson (Lauren) and TV veteran Kevin Kennedy as Kelly’s dad, provide sure-footed support. One surprise of the evening is Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton. She has little stage time but delivers a well-judged comedy turn as diet franchise owner Julia Fleshman. Joel Montague, in for Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff as Kelly’s fiancé Kevin has the most beautifully melodic voice, one which does full justice to Lloyd Webber’s music.

While this is undoubtedly an entertaining production, there is one thing that needs to go on a diet and that’s the script. There are a few too many unnecessary scenes that add little more than extending the running time and could easily be trimmed.

Bretta Gerecke’s set design is colourful and functional but leans a bit towards the homemade pantomime to be truly effective.

It echoes the famous words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, then how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” A life-affirming, hugely relatable piece of entertainment with the best singing you’ll hear on stage all year.

Runs until 5 May 2018 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Shirley Valentine – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

jodie prenger against a greek seaside background

Willy Russell’s track record of successfully writing about ordinary women is almost unparalleled in popular theatre: Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and this, his 1986 effort Shirley Valentine, have repeatedly touched the hearts of the nation in both stage and film versions.

Shirley Bradshaw (Jodie Prenger) is 42, with two teenage kids who have flown the nest, an emotionally distant husband, her day to day existence leaving her resigned to (literally) talking to the egg-yolk yellow walls of her pine-clad kitchen. When her best friend offers to pay for a well-needed holiday for the pair, Shirley jumps at the chance to escape.

In the 30 years that have passed since it was written, much has changed, and women have come a long way. Despite a few dated references, and the fact that at 42, an age when many women in 2017 are only starting to contemplate having a family, 1980’s Shirley feels washed up and unable to escape her situation, Russell’s script has largely weathered the years well. That he can wring so much humour and pathos from the life of a working class Liverpudlian housewife, is a testament to his talent. It is in turn touching, resonant and laugh-out-loud funny.

That said, it’s not without fault. Essentially a 16000-word monologue, the weight of the production’s success is set firmly on the shoulders of the lead. Here, Prenger can’t rely on her impressive singing voice. Shirley’s cheeky chat and charisma, coupled with Prenger’s vivacity and heightened characterisation make it hard to believe that she doesn’t have the confidence to leave her dreary life behind. However, Prenger’s natural warmth transmits brilliantly to the audience, making us forgive her less than on-point Liverpool accent, and the audience is never not rooting for her every step of her journey.

Amy Yardley’s set design is simple, the 80s kitchen familiar to anyone who lived through the decade. Less successful is the rendering of the sun-drenched Greek island, the azure blue Mediterranean Sea more plastic camping tarpaulin than lapping waves. That said, it’s the words that matter, and those are glorious.

There’s enough here to still resonate with an audience in 2017; it’s a perfect balance of thought-provoking, self-searching, inspirational and life-affirming. It will make you, as Russell says in his script, “fall in love with the idea of living.” A British theatre classic and deservedly so.

Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan


REVIEW: Calamity Jane – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The strangest fact about the stage musical of Calamity Jane is that is has never been staged in either the West End or Broadway despite numerous sell-out tours of both the US And UK.

Calamity Jane - Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane & Tom Lister as Wild  Bill Hickok. Photo credit Manuel Harlan (2)

Loosely based on tales from the life of Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane is the equal of any man in the Wild West. Friend and Golden Gate saloon owner Henry Miller is under the impression that he’s hired famous actress Frances Fryer to perform, but when the very male Francis arrives, Calamity steps in to save the day, vowing to head from Deadwood to Chicago to bring back the darling of the age, stage sweetheart Adelaid Adams. But, as it ever was in musical theatre, things don’t go quite to plan, there’s mistaken identity, a love triangle thrown into the mix, and musical mayhem ensues.

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Packed with a plethora of familiar tunes: ‘The Deadwood Stage’, ‘Windy City’, ‘The Black Hills of Dakota’ (much-loved by this Glasgow audience who sang out full voice when the first few notes rang out from the stage) and of course, Oscar-winner ‘Secret Love’, this is a good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser.

For all its fun and hi-jinks, underneath lies a very romantic and lyrically witty score which the cast do justice to. As is becoming their trademark, this Watermill Theatre production features a cast of actor/musicians and though personally not a fan, the device works well here and there’s no end to the places that musical instruments are produced from.

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The cast are ably led by I’d Do Anything winner and audience darling Jodie Prenger as Calamity andEmmerdale‘s Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. Prenger wins over the audience before a word is uttered, her entrance greeted by a round of whoops and hollers, and whilst in possession of a roof-raising voice and well-honed comedic skills, it is Lister who captures the heart, he has a truly beautiful voice, the only complaint being that you don’t get to hear enough of it. However, one note of criticism which can’t go unmentioned is the poor diction/accents of some of the cast members who rendered the narrative unintelligible for whole swathes of the first act. That said it improved as the show progressed.

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The static set doubles, triples and quadruples as every location in the show: pianos and chairs become a stagecoach, a door and some barrels become tables and it is richly lit and nicely dressed to give both a sense of time and place.

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The first act seems disjointed and though long, doesn’t seem to cover much ground, the second and much more enjoyable act on the other hand, drives along at whip-cracking pace, bringing the romp to its happy conclusion. The production is suffused throughout with infectious energy and it is this, along with the cracking tunes that sends you back onto the street with a smile on your face. The popularity of this enduring classic shows no sign of abating. Get your cowboy hat on and get along to the King’s to see it while you can.

Runs until Sat 20 June 2015

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/calamity-jane-kings-theatre-glasgow/