Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area: Sarah Simmonds
Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street
7.30pm Tues-Sat, mats Sat 2.30pm, Sun 2pm
Runs: 2hrs with interval: to 06 11 15
TICKETS: 0844 412 4307
Review by Carole Woddis of performance seen Oct 21, 2014
A refreshing theatre balancing act
Post menopausal women, as anyone will tell you, are either ripe as comic targets or worse, invisiblised.
So Sarah Simmonds new play that has post-menopausal Victoria at its centre is both welcome and a refreshing righting of an imbalance.
That Simmonds intends it as wry commentary is gleaned from both the play’s amusing supermarket referenced title and her opening gynaecological examination scene. Judging by the reactions of the young women around me, Simmonds’ portrayal of Vicky, legs splayed, being treated by a smirking male doctor comes all too near the knuckle although they should be re-assured – normally there’s a female nurse in attendance!
Simmonds indulges in quite a few other moments of dramatic license in her central character, so overwhelmed by her predicament that she has to resort to a support group represented here, quite amusingly by a motley group of similarly disoriented middle aged women.
Eliciting more laughs, Simmonds then proceeds to stretch credulity by Vicky’s recruitment to a phone sex line by Meg, one of the group’s more boisterous members.
Cue also the even more unlikely scenario of Vicky’s estranged husband, John McAndrew’s wonderfully downbeat, emotionally constipated Jeremy, accidentally calling the said phone line thinking it is a Chinese take-away (yes, the numbers are very similar).
Underneath the laughs, of course, Simmonds catches some painful truths about the dreadful sense of loss particularly of attractiveness (hence the title) many women experience from the menopause – nowhere more effectively than in her relationship with Jeremy, a retired teacher, whose inability to understand Vicky’s predicament or express his own feelings proves the play’s pivotal centre.
Louise Shephard’s stylistic production is wanly amusing in its attempts to vary Simmonds’ realism with a chorus of characters entering dancing with props – and requiring Vicky’s 19 year old student son, Harry, to sit naked in a bath-tub whilst Vicky springs to all kinds of misunderstandings about his university and love life.
An example of Vicky’s `distress’, it’s also symptomatic of Simmonds writing which, for all its comic intention, ultimately feels dramatically heavy-handed, thereby robbing it of credibility.
A case of falling between two stools, I suspect – truth exagerrated but not quite wildly enough.
Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area
A new play by Sarah Simmonds
Presented by Pink Snail Productions and the Old Red Lion
Jeremy: John McAndrew
Dick/Marek: Joshua Miles
Meg: Paddy Navin
Victoria: Jenny Ogilvie
Harry: Andy Rush
Anita: Kate Russell Smith
Gareth: Edward Wolstenholme
Polly: Tracey Ann Wood
Director: Louise Shephard
Set Designer: Kady Howey Nunn
Movement Director: Jessica Williams
Sound Designer: Harry Barker
Lighting Designer: Mark Dymock
Casting Director: Ben Newsome
First perf of Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, London, Oct 14, 2014-10-23