Murky shades of comedy

51 Shades of Maggie

Malvern Theatres

I WAS expecting raunchiness. I was expecting colourful language. I guess had I read Leesa Harker’s Belfast-set 50 Shades of Red White and Blue I would have known exactly what I was letting myself in for.

This play is adapted from Harker’s first novel, which itself started life as a parody blog of EL James’s omnipresent Fifty Shades of Grey.

Director and Producer Martin Lynch acknowledges that some people will regard this play as ‘crude and ignorant and ultimately demeaning to women.’ He was right. It wasn’t the insatiable libido or brazen character of East End heroine Maggie Muff (yes, really) that offended some audience members, and I am not affronted by a bit of swearing, but I found the absolute overkill of smut and the constant endeavour to shock both boring and distasteful.

I realise that this play is in one way meant as a bit of fun, but it is also being painted as somehow empowering to women. Lynch talks about the core of this play containing a ‘profound truth’.

Perhaps I missed it. Maybe it was hidden in Mr Big’s Private Room of Pain; maybe I overlooked it when Maggie Muff was giving us a flash of the gash. I sound like a prude, I know that, and there were many in the audience who clearly found the storyline and language hilarious.

Fans of Harker’s writing will not be disappointed by her adaptation, although I know many felt slightly hoodwinked by the promotional material displaying a topless Mr Big alongside Maggie Muff. This was a one woman show with no Mr Big to satisfy the women. You see? My mind has been sullied already.

So, plus points, because there were a couple: Adele Silva, probably best known for her role in Emmerdale, did a brilliant job of bringing the many different characters to life. As Maggie, she narrated her own story whilst giving us vivid impressions of the other players in her life – her mum, Big Sally-Ann, Mr Big, Mr Big’s parents . . . Remembering the lines, recreating the accents, delivering both sides of a conversation – Silva is a fine actress; I just felt the writing let her down. Comedy lines about ‘getting my c*** kicked in’, ‘getting my backdoor smashed in’ and ‘getting moist dreaming about Mr Big’s todger’ did not sit well with me.

Jokes about date rape drugs and shagging fourteen year olds till their mums appeared .. . . Well, I’d suggest to Lynch that this may well be one of the reasons why people might describe the play as demeaning.

But I was meant to be focussing on the positives. I liked the bed. Maggie sits on, lies on, cavorts on, struts around a gigantic plush bed as she talks, sometimes rotating it to face different directions to give us an impression of different settings. I would like a bed like that. As for other positives, I’m afraid I found none.

Like 50 Shades of Grey, Harker’s 50 Shades of Red White and Blue and its stage adaptation 51 Shades of Maggie seem to be proving hugely popular. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why. For fans of the novels, go and see this without delay. But if it’s subtlety or sensitivity or eroticism you’re after, I’d recommend an evening of Columbo and White Lightning. Just not with Big Sally-Ann.

51 Shades of Maggie runs at Malvern Theatres to 05-10-13 before moving on to Grimsby, Birmingham, Bromley, Woking and Richmond.

Amy Rainbow 

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