5@50 To 14 May.


by Brad Fraser.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 14 May 2011.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed & 8 Feb 2.30pm, Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 7 May 4pm.
BSL Signed 10 May.
Post-show Discussion 12 May.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 April.

Middle-age crises take middle-of-the-road track..
A stray thought occurred to me some way into Canadian Brad Fraser’s first act. If this play were recast with a quintet of tele-names it might do the commercial circuit – like Calendar Girls, without the proffered physical nudity.

For these five women, celebrating (or at least commemorating) their fiftieth birthdays are an outwardly glamorous collection of maturity whose souls and relationships are progressively bared. Fraser has foregone his usual interlinking short scenes for a more easily digested linear progression through events.

A collection of smart comments make for easily-assimilated, if sometimes astringent, comedy – de rigeur nowadays. The darker elements everyone knows must be hanging around make their gradual impact with suitable emotional force. The lesbian duo in focus at the opening are into relationships and personality more than sexual show. So that’s no bar to commercial success.

The men in others’ lives are off-stage and could be laughed at easily by female audience groups (and slightly less easily by any males in the house). When alcoholism and illness encroach, the former’s introduced softly then in a couple of shock scenes showing bad influence and ill-effect; the latter obviously impends from the happy statement early on about being so amazingly free of the sicknesses that come with age.

Both, like the drugs brought in along the way, provide cosy-enough shocks. After all, people want something serious to deepen the experience.

This from an author associated initially in Britain with Edinburgh’s Traverse under director Ian Brown (now about to depart West Yorkshire Playhouse) and more recently with Braham Murray at the Exchange. Both recognised, presumably, Fraser’s ability to get under the skin of sophisticated metropolitan lives by counterpointing brief, apparently televisual scenes, with a richness that’s entirely theatrical.

Maybe he’s been brave to throw away the structural complexities and reveal something more simple in his material. Or maybe the removal of the sound underscoring Brown’s productions especially used lowers intensity. At any rate, while the second act does eventually move to less commercial material, the play comes over, immaculately as it’s acted throughout, as far from derisory, but certainly minor-scale Fraser.

Norma Goulet: Teresa Banham.
Fern Brown: Barbara Barnes.
Lorene Goodman: Candida Gubbins.
Tricia Woodcock: Ingrid Lacey.
Olivia Fairfax: Jan Ravens.

Director: Braham Murray.
Designer: Johanna Bryant.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: John Leonard.
Dialects: Jan Haydn Rowles.
Fights: Kate Waters.

2011-05-03 00:34:56

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