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The Pajama Game . . . thoughts on the show (not a review!)

on Jun25 2017

The Nuffield, Southampton Operatic Society, 24 June 2017

Last night I went to see the Pajama Game. First on stage in the 1950s, this shows tell the story of a group of workers seeking a pay rise in a factory. Into the mix are thrown a couple of love stories. One is between management and a grievance committee rep, another is between an aggressive-knife-throwing-jealous-control-freak and a worker, and the third is philandering husband who tries to get it on with every female co-worker.

Dodgy relationships

While the songs, and lyrics, were fun (some extremely clever), and the bigger pieces great to watch, I couldn’t help but come away with bile in my throat. How is it possible that a serial philanderer works in the company, creeping over every woman, that and that anyone would go for him? Prez is a gross character and I have worked in enough places to know, for a fact, that within three days of being there you’ve been warned about which men to avoid being alone with, which men are predatory, which are creepy and which are uncomfortably odd. But, the Pajama Game clearly shows us that if creepy, touching men persevere they will eventually get to have sex. Gross. What kind of message is that for young men watching this show?

Then we’ve got Hines and Gladys. We know Hines is a control freak from his clock-watching, we know he is jealous of everyone Gladys speaks of (he tells us this), we know he has a knife-throwing act (we see it), we know he can’t handle his drink (we watch that too) and we know he is aggressive (as he throws knives in a temper at work) and yet still, with all this going on, smart, clever, fun Gladys goes back to him. And we also know, as we watch this in the course of the musical, that Hines is not going to break the cycle. So here, as an example to men, we have drunken, jealous, abuse which is forgiven. And as an example to women? Forgive, forgive, forgive. Yuck.

And then there’s Babe and Sid. The mis-matched lovers who fight about hourly wages, and then he fires her. She’s been after a pay-rise for a long time, everyone else in other factories has had one, it’s fair and just given the amount of business. But, it’s only when he checks the books and sees that there is a fiddle going on, that the rise comes into play. And then she snogs him, because even though he’s ignored her, fired her, ignored her some more, he’s solved a problem which wasn’t the one she was fighting. Grim.

Workplace fights

The show’s set in a factory, where one of the first scenes shows us Sid shoving a sub-ordinate, and then telling people multiple times that he ‘shoved him’ as if this is acceptable behaviour, because there wasn’t a punch. This is the same factory which then doesn’t call the police to report Hines throwing knives at people in the office, as it’s ‘Hines’. Seriously? I worked in a company once where the boss threw a chair at a subordinate. The next week all the staff were out of there, not laughing it off.

Choices for production

I understand why people might chose to stage this – it’s a big cast, lots of moments for company singing and dances, roles for both sexes, suits the age-range of community societies, good songs and an element of fun. But seriously, people who make these decisions should take a step back and ask themselves what they are putting on stage. Is wife beating funny? Is sexual assault funny? Is misogyny funny? I suspect that this is the kind of clap-trap that Donald Trump and the far right grew up watching.

The audience all tittered away, except for one lady sat a few rows behind us. She commented the whole way through – that’s not funny, that’s gross, that’s horrid. Far braver than I, or perhaps unrestricted by the societal conventions that you shouldn’t speak during shows? The Emperor’s New Clothes springs to mind.


This show is definitely of its time, the dark ages, when the gate keepers were keen to tell the stories that kept the status quo. It’s book-ended with a comment about symbolism. ‘This show’s about symbolism.’ I’m not sure what the symbolism was, or why that was referenced as a great thing? I didn’t get that, as I was too busy wondering how damaging crap like this still keeps getting put on stage.

The production (even though this isn’t a review!)

And, a note about the production. It was great. Strong singing, solid acting (a few dodgy accents, but hey ho), fun, vibrant routines and an all-round feel-good evening that the cast and excellent band were having lots of fun.  I’d definitely see when of their shows again, but hopefully not something so far from the dark ages.


Beauty and the Beast – Northern Ballet – Mayflower Theatre

on Dec1 2016

This is a stunning show running until the end of the week at the Mayflower. I’ve written a review for the Porstmouth News which I’ll link in as soon as it’s published. In the meantime, watch this ballet if you can get there!

The Wipers Times, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, Salisbury Playhouse, Nov 2016.

on Nov28 2016

The Wipers Times – world war one play, set in Ypres.

Well, this is the first time that I can ever remember that I’ve left a show at the intermission. I was so looking forward to seeing this piece, not only because I know a member of the cast (vaguely), but also because I am fascinated with World War One (I have written a play about it called The Devil’s Rope), and also I quite like Ian Hislop on Have I got news for you?

Sadly, this didn’t translate as brilliantly as it should. I felt that there was an air of smug superiority in the piece, based on the true story of a group of men who set up a printing press in the trenches. It felt – to me – like every old-fashioned and dull notion that middle ranks were jolly clever, high ranks utterly malignant and low ranks thick.  There was nothing new, fresh or challenging in the way this story was told. You hear a lot about echo chambers in social media, this felt like an echo chamber on stage.

The actors were all great, working with given material, the set was a little busy with transitions sung brilliantly, but never-ending punctuation to the story, and the costumes / lights etc all fine. But I felt that there was no real heart and what I was witnessing was Ian Hislop’s almost-witticisms far too frequently.

But as ever, it was me (and my husband who went to sleep within five minutes) against everyone else. The rest of the audience was chortling and clapping and feeling the joy.  Perhaps I had built this up in my head to be the most wonderful play ever, and I am judging against what I had hoped for, rather than against going to the theatre and seeing a regular play?

Either way, it did do one thing really, really well, and that was the programme – which has interested me in the bigger story. Darn. I feel such a humbug, but also quite grown-up about walking away from the show that didn’t deliver.

Wind in the Willows – Mayflower Southampton Nov 2016

on Nov28 2016

A quick link to my review for the Portsmouth News.

Frantic Assembly – Things I know to be true, Chichester festival theatre (Minerva) Nov 2016

on Nov28 2016

Frantic Assembly – Things I know to be true, written by Andrew Bovell

This is a really tricky show to write about as it is so dispiriting. The audience was snotting-out globules of sadness all around me from start to end. Considering I cry at TV ads, I was very surprised to keep dry eyes all the way through, and the show employed all the techniques known to pull it out of me including characters weeping on stage, cruelty of words, chopping an onion (not real, but still, your eyes should weep at the thought), miscommunications, and  . . . the big D(eath).

I loved the humour moments, and some of the movements. The relationships between the family members and the easy costumes. I was less enamoured of the structure which was so rigid we all knew that we were going to be delivered monologue after monologue and pain after pain.

I wouldn’t watch this again, but I am a very small minority. Everyone else around me loved it on so many levels. Perhaps that day I had a heart of stone? I don’t know, considering the storylines were coming at me from every angle, as a mother, having a mother, as a daughter, having daughters, as a wife, having a husband, as a sister, having brothers. You know what – if the emotional resonance had been one of these I suspect I would have bawled along with the rest? But as it was all of them? Too much pain to make me believe in the stage reality.

Find out more about Frantic Assembly online – I LOVED their Othello last year, or more about me: Zella Compton.

Theatre and fringes: what a ride.

on Jun8 2016

How to be a Girl! enjoyed its debut at the New Theatre Royal. It sold out the studio space and was moved to the main house. Imagine that. The feeling was immense, looking at the empty auditorium prior to performance.

I sat in the dress circle for the show, and tears flowed down my face at the first laugh. I knew I had written a comedy; there were some very dark moments in rehearsal when I doubted my skill. The cast were amazing, they puffed up on that stage, I could really see how the audience response affected them. There was a lengthy Q&A afterwards with lots of gushing (how wonderful!!!), a few questions and one dis-liker (who I can’t stop thinking about . . .  what’s that all about?).

A week later we went from a Matcham stage to a pub with a performance area of 2.5m by 2.5m. That was Brighton Fringe where we sold out both shows. And got an official review – I will post about that another time. Again the cast did a fantastic job of taking a show designed for a studio into another space.

What have I learnt from this process?

Make sure that there is sufficient storage on your memory card to record the show.

Check out space before booking it.

You can make a profit.

Rehearse your cast with Q&A questions (It worked beautifully getting them to think beforehand)

Take a hanky.

Nothing will prepare you for the loss when it is over.

Feedback is amazing.

The review from Brighton put as a recommended show. I’ll take that! Here’s the opening: Here is a show that serves up a large slice of satire, washed down with a good dose of humour, by ten young teenage girls, ably directed by Helen Jones with a script carefully crafted by Zella Compton. This show is a clear indicator that we live in a culture that teaches girls to judge their worth based on their appearance rather than their abilities.

American Idiot. Kings Theatre. 30 Apr 2016

on May8 2016

Musical mayhem

I had a lucky moment the other day when I came across an advert for American Idiot – a musical based on the music of Green Day. It was on at the Kings Theatre  – so I had a look on the website to see if there was any wonderful chance that I could find a cheap ticket. And what do you know? The theatre has reduced view seating for £15 a pop. Brilliant – but only one seat in a row full of strangers.

Not one to be openly afraid of aloneness, I rose to the challenge and confidently plonked myself on the Billy-no-mates seat in the middle of two groups.

I wonder if, when people book, they deliberately leave a buffer so to speak, perhaps because they fear the spread of other people’s knees and thighs, or perhaps because they want a chair to strategically fill with coats (especially pertinent in this apocalyptic weather of snow first thing, followed by burning sun, a roll of thunder, some juicy hailstones, a bit more sun, topped off with snow. I’ve never been in, and out of, so many layers in such a small amount of time).

There I was, in the coat chair, feeling small and a bit lonely, but secretly marvelling that the view was pretty good. And then it started. People talking to me. For all this nonsense that’s spouted about the British not speaking to each other, I’d like to set the record straight. We do, all the time. We get laughed at as a nation for constantly talking about the weather (see paragraph above); it’s our national opener. We want to talk to one another, we want to be social, we want connection.

The family on one side of me were back to see the show for the second time, they’d enjoyed it so much when they’d seen it days before. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? And the couple of the other side were there as a birthday present – a surprise one – and they’d never been to a theatre before. We may have been there to see American Idiots, but in a truly British way we shared our uniqueness within a few moments of meeting. I loved that.

The show itself was okay – I embarrassed myself aplenty by not knowing many songs and failing to get a grip on the plot (could it be as simple as I thought?), but the pace and choreography were stunning. Bring on more cheaper tickets and I’ll be back every night. . .

The 39 Steps / The Nuffield 7 may 2016

on May8 2016

Non-Naturalistic heaven

The 39 Steps is a fast-paced, intense show which featured tremendous non-naturalistic techniques. The story follows the Hitchcock film telling the tale of Richard Hannay and the events which unfold after watching Mr Memory’s show (murder, chases, romance, baddies and denouement).

I love this type of theatre with extreme multi-role. It keeps the audience on its toes and allows actors to show off their full repertoire.


The highlights for me were definitely the techniques employed. First off, the body language was superb. There was not one movement which wasn’t needed. Even the actors’ knees were employed as character accessories. Seriously, the precision of this piece was extraordinary. But where the real fun began was in throwing Stanislvansky out the door.

How do you stage a theatre, train carriages, train rooftops, moorland, aeroplane chase, car chase, railway bridge somersaults, living room, hotels and more? Simple, help the audience suspend belief at the outset, suck them in, and then let them bless you in delight as you employ coat shaking for wind, slow motion for fast speed chasing and French mime for carriages. If ever you need a technique for a scene, go see this show. There will be something in there that you can use.

The hero of the piece meets many women in his journeys and while the dialogue told one story the incredible physical subtext told another with a fluid dance, chest to chest mirroring, and a passion of positioning. I wish I had a picture to stick in here to describe this – but sadly I don’t and have to resort to purple prose. It was delicious and all delivered with a sense of extreme fun.

Transport fun

A train was created with a few old trunks as seats – the characters bobbing up and down – and its roof chase with more wind effects, slow motion and double pointing. As for the aeroplane scene? That was puppetry combined with teasing perspective. I can’t even begin to explain the doors opening, a quick turn, and characters entrances. All of it was a charm.

Which was lucky, as the billed comic nature of the script didn’t entice me. An over reliance on gags around props not being ready wore thin, and although we were told several times about the devilishly handsome nature of the lead’s moustache I like to leave a joke at its first telling. The acting was brilliantly physical, but I struggled to understand some of the vocal work, particularly the various nationalities of the string of international women (she was awesome as an old fashioned heroine in peril).

Overall, my verdict was that this was a triumph of physicality and staging, thoroughly enjoyable. My husband thought it was a bit like a pantomime. He doesn’t like those very much. But then, he did sleep through most of the second half.

Restricted viewing

And as for our seats? Restricted viewing actually meant restricted viewing in seats Q4/5 at The (otherwise awesome) Nuffield. We missed everything that was upstage left. Next time we’ll stand.

Tour dates

Find out more about where the tour is going, and how many steps you need to climb, by visiting the official site.




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