TITLE: Huddersfield Thespians, Ladies’ Day
VENUE: Lawrence Batley TheatreREVIEW: by William Marshall
THE temporary relocation of Royal Ascot to York Racecourse in 2005 provides the catalyst for Amanda Whittington’s play, and we might have expected it to be a culture clash comedy in which snooty southerners encounter no-nonsense northerners – with hilarious results.
It’s not quite like that. The rather Godberseque play focuses very tightly on a group of four female Hull fish filleters as they blag their way into the race meeting on Ladies’ Day and although there are some fish-out-water moments, the drama and the bittersweet comedy derive almost entirely from the women’s various emotional problems and back-stories, which emerge during the race meeting – as they await the result of a bet on the Tote that could change their lives.
Only occasionally is the play laugh-out-loud funny, and there are some flat patches of dialogue, but it is touching and ingeniously staged. The very end of the play might have been rather corny, if it had not been presaged by a bizarre supernatural scene which is incongruous in the context of such a down-to-earth play, but rather moving all the same.
The four women who play the central roles are all extremely good, and differentiate their characters very well in the course of highly accomplished performances, directed by Veronica Moran.
Lynne Whitaker plays the older Pearl, who harbours a melancholic secret behind her capable facade. Tania Smith is the gauche Linda, whose passion for Tony Christie records is an unlikely plot-mover. Melanie Duff is the repressed Jan, and Louise Hardy puts in a vivid performance as the fame-obsessed Shelley, the very picture of a would-be Big Brother contestant, whose brash exterior conceals insecurities and frightening store card debts.
There are two men in the cast, who play a variety of roles. Tom Ward – new to acting – is rather funny as a perpetually famished, disillusioned jockey. David Smith is excellent in his various parts, including a louche TV racing announcer and a drunken gambler. Full credit to him for making the most of this chance to display his versatility, although it is a little surprising that the Thespians should resort to this multiple casting device, which is forced on professional companies for economic reasons.
Meanwhile, there are a number of non-speaking extras on stage, creating a race-day atmosphere fairly effectively, although a little more could have been done in this direction.
Ladies’ Day continues at the LBT until Saturday, when there is also a matinee.