A girl well worth knowing

Some Girl I Used to Know

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

FIRST we had the coming of age dramas and comedies and now we have a bittersweet coming of middle age laid bare.

That realisation that youth, like friends, is something you have left behind without noticing – until now.

In Some Girl I used To Know Denise Van Outen is Stephanie Carnworth, successful fashion entrepreneur, escaping to her room in a high class hotel for a break from the launch of her new range of lingerie - and for a respite from persistent and annoying fashion journalist Abbey Ambrose.

Her marriage to Paul is OK, not soft focus and starry eyed any more, but OK – comfortable more than sensual perhaps and a victim of work with both husband and wife often only seeing each other as they fall exhausted into bed at night.

The only physical contact often a morning kiss or as Stephanie says “more an accidental collision of faces”.

This is the minutiae of middle aged marriage, the moans and irritations, where passionate loving together has given way to the more practical living together until . . .

Enter Sean, the love of her life, at least he was some 20 years or so ago. When Sean pokes her – that’s a nudge to get your attention on Facebook by the way for those with a more earthy vocabulary  - it opens the floodgates to a torrent of nostalgia.

Stephanie is a teenager back in the 80s again, she tells how she and Sean first met, the Hollywood nightclub in Romford, hiding her knickers before losing her virginity – the inspiration for her present underwear empire. Then there is the break up, the angst and the heartbreaks.

Through Stephanie we meet Slaggy Sue who seems to play not just the field but the whole county, her brother Gary and we are back among the sort of things teenagers and youngsters think and talk about.

We learn that bright red, shiny glossed lips might not give your mouth quite the image you are trying to achieve, that a chipolata in the Albert Hall is not the biggest turn-on in the world – oh, and if you ever go round to Sean’s mums’house don’t use the face towels.

Remembering her past is a bittersweet experience for Denise Van Outen's Stephanie

Sean having found Steph again is on his way to the hotel, and Steph is in danger of swooning like a schoolgirl again. Whether the married woman’s reality of now or the teenage fantasy of then gains the upper hand is the crux of the matter.

Van Outen co-wrote the one woman play with songwriter and novelist Terry Ronald – his first play - and it does have some very funny throwaway lines as well as some poignant moments.

The first act sets the scene building up the world of Steph and the characters who inhabit it layer by layer, the second strips them away again, exposing the despair and anguish of broken dream, promises annostalgia.d relationships. Decisions made and chances missed to reach who we are today.

Part of its strength is in the episodes Stephanie relates that many in the audience can relate to, a sort of communal reminiscence.

Linking it all are some songs from the era with the likes of the Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now and Billy Ray Martin’s  Your Loving Arms, an original song, Some Girl I Used to Know, used almost as a theme, and perhaps best of all Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, which stripped of its reggae beat is a half decent, emotional romantic ballad.

The final scene closes with Soft Cell’s Say Hello Wave Goodbye in a low key end as Steph sees where her life has taken her.

There is nowhere to hide in a one woman play and Van Outen holds the stage from the moment she walks into her hotel room set.

We very quickly become interested in her character and soon start to care about Steph, feeling for her and sharing her anguish, which is half the battle for an actor in any play.

Van Outen produces a fine acting performance and she displays her musical theatre prowess with an attractive, easy to listen to singing voice. Each of the period songs is given the intimate ballad treatment with musical director Garth Hall controlling the pace on keyboards just offstage.

It is rude, at times very, but never offensively crude and despite the preponderance of women in the audience, it is far more sophisticated and wittier than hen night fare. Directed by Michael Howcroft it runs to 12-02-14. The production is also at Wolverhampton Grand later this month from Feb 20-22

Roger Clarke

 

And from some bloke we know . . .

****

IF this amusing one-woman play with music proves anything it is that Denise Van Outen is an excellent actress who really can sing.

She co-wrote the story with Terry Ronald and also plays career woman Stephanie Canworth, looking back on her life experiences from a smart hotel suite after the successful launch of her latest lingerie range.

In some ways it’s very similar to Shirley Valentine who chatted to her kitchen wall and then the audience before jetting off for fun in the sun.

Here, though, we have Stephanie going back over the years, occasionally breaking into recollections with songs from the 80s and 90s like Hold Me Now (The Thompson Twins), Do You Really Want to Hurt Me (Culture Club) and Say Hello Wave Goodbye (Soft Cell), plus the enjoyable original number, Some Girl I Used to Know.

The format works well and Denise certainly sings beautifully, and she amuses the audience with cheeky sexual anecdotes while reminiscing on emotional, exciting and sad times, and being tempted to meet up again with an old flame, Sean, who suddenly contacts her via Facebook and text messages.

Does the liaison between the beautiful married woman and her unreliable ex take place? Wait and see!

Directed by Michael Howcroft, the play runs to Wednesday night and pops up again at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on February 20-22.

Paul Marston 

Home Alex  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre