Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until Saturday (March 11)
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
BLUFF North pits itself against stuffy South in this cheery comedy which straddles the English social divide. It also offers another theatrical nod towards Girl Power.
Amanda Whittington’s play has echoes of Calendar Girls and Made in Dagenham with its depiction of freewheeling women seeking to rise above their normal status. The only difference is a plot that’s pure jolly hokum, although it’s based around the year that Royal Ascot Ladies’ Day was temporarily transferred to York.
This allows full rein to a tale of four fish factory workers who decide to indulge a dream splurge in the dizzy environment of thundering hooves and ridiculous hats.
Director Graham Buckingham-Underhill gets the show under starter’s orders from the outset and ensures a lively gallop to the winning post with a script that unashamedly hauls in every cliche on the race-card. He largely succeeds through his four female players who perform with unbridled enthusiasm and great zest.
Leigh Walker dazzles as the quartet’s ditzy sexpot, all high heels and brash allure. Emma Searle is comically credible and by turns touching as the naive one dominated by mother and obsessed with Tony Christie. Caroline McCluskey and Kathy Buckingham-Underhill weigh in with performances effectively contrasting comedy and pathos.
The production is let down by poor male support playing and a drab set which looks more like a back yard than any suggestion of a royal race event. Fortunately, the ladies’ ebullience and the spirited direction, to say nothing of some splendid costumes, manage to carry the day.
Although the play is essentially a crowd-pleaser, it would be stronger without certain plot gimmicks in its later stages and an ending which is outright corn.
Very much a case of the writer hedging her bets.