SOME GIRL I USED TO KNOW AT THE WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
Theatre Run: Thursday 20 - Saturday 22 February 2014
Performance Reviewed: Saturday 22 February 2014 (Matinee Performance)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
As is par for the course with being a critic of any medium or art form, one sometimes gets lost amongst the de rigueur of assessing, surmising and critiquing, not to mention one’s own personal tastes and preferences, and forgets the beauty and importance of objectivity. On paper, Some Girl I Used To Know is the kind of work of theatre that I would perhaps not immediately gravitate towards or commend - a one-woman show that is unashamedly feminine and female-oriented without being abjectly feminist, and so steeped in tropes and touches from the likes of Shirley Valentine through to Bridget Jones’s Diary that it could hardly be called particularly original or envelope-pushing.
However, as mentioned, it is not the sole purpose or pre-requisite of theatre to put re-invention and originality at the top of the agenda, and occasionally comfortable familiarity, particularly when coupled with an astute understanding of its target audience, can make a show all the more accessible, endearing and entertaining. It is this idea that makes Some Girl I Used To Know such a canny and easygoing experience - it fully embraces itself as a show ‘for the girls’, winningly complemented by an almost kitchen-sink, Mike Leigh-esque approach to it’s naturalistic, conversational and oft-witty dialogue, and an overall sense of engagement with the audience throughout that puts everyone at ease and welcomes us into the life, loves and memories of its sole central character.
The ever resplendent Denise Van Outen plays self-made underwear tycoon Stephanie, away from home in London for a press launch and staying in a suitably fancy hotel room by herself. She’s agreed to an exclusive interview with a particular journalist thorn-in-her-side, but before then she has some down time to ponder her life both past and present, knock out a few 80‘s hits moulded into ballads and contemplate the tempting offer of an old flame suggesting he pay her a non-conjugal visit. Some Girl’s greatest success is undoubtedly making Stephanie such a likable and empathetic character, and whilst this may be achieved by generally painting her in fairly broad strokes and giving her a suitably atypical backstory, a lament of first love gone sour, it serves perfectly to ensure she has the audience on her side from the get go. The show could arguably have gone into greater depth and ethos exploring more of the mentality behind and impact of her business successes, and ruminations on Stephanie’s relationship with her current husband Paul are much more fleeting and ephemeral compared to her recollections of yesteryear, but it all serves as a reminder that the M.O. seems to have been to consciously craft the character and her story as an everywoman, and make the message and journey as universal and accessible as possible. It’s an approach that, judging by the propensity of laughter and eventually tears and snuffles in the audience throughout, seems to have wholeheartedly worked.
The inclusion of 80’s and 90’s nostalgia undercurrents the entire show, though thankfully not as glaringly or forced as it may have been. Van Outen and co-writer Terry Ronald inject plenty of Stephanie’s similes and asides with a healthy dose of pop culture throwbacks and references, from Smash Hits magazine, Duran Duran through to even Anita Dobson’s famous Angie Watts hairdo. The implentation of a ‘mix tape’ approach to the inclusion of music throughout is tonally a little repetitive, jumping mostly from one reflective ballad to the next, with some questionable motivation for some of the tracks used, but Steve Anderson’s arrangements and adaptation work are at times touching and surprisingly effective. From an unlikely interpretation of Sonia’s ‘You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You’, to a tender and delicate take on ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ by Culture Club and, most welcomely, an original title song that closes Act I and fits in perfectly with its neighbouring numbers, it may be all a little safe and samey, but it is perfectly pleasant and sung with beautiful, crystalline tone, clarity and passion by Van Outen throughout.
Pushing objectivity aside for a moment, the show is inarguably not without a handful of faults, though none of them deal-breakers, particularly for those within it’s target market. Occasionally some of the blocking feels a touch staged and over-rehearsed, and at times it’s difficult to shake the sense of Van Outen rushing to keep up or consciously ensuring she is hitting her marks, though this is often the downside of keeping a solo performer show engaging and interesting to watch. The show’s finale and resolution, whilst not as saccharine and predictable as it could have been, nonetheless languishes somewhat in morality middle ground in an attempt to seemingly please everyone. Some may likewise feel the show as a whole to be a little lopsided, with a decidedly more affecting and serious second Act that is in sharp contrast to the first half, though this personally felt, along with a more streamlined length for the show as a whole, to be ultimately well judged and almost disarming by the time Stephanie hits much heavier and more traumatic avenues of memory lane.
Overall though, Some Girl I Used To Know fizzes with vitality and spark, demonstrates heart and wit and knows who it is speaking to and aimed at strongly enough to make it the perfect recommendation for a girls night out, hen nights and other unforgivably typical and broad generalisations of its more feminine slant. Van Outen is radiant and winning enough though to placate fence-sitting dates, boyfriends, husbands, and the second act in particular finds stronger emotional footing that will likely cross any gender divide. It is a charming, heartfelt and sincere piece on love, loss, rumination, and offers a surprisingly meaningful and knowing take on the perils of nostalgia and hindsight. It won’t win any awards for originality or invention, but finds enough heart, pathos and humour amongst the gags and giggles to make it a thoroughly satisfying and reassuringly good-natured romp, with Van Outen on fine form making willing ears and firm friends of us all.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)
SOME GIRL I USED TO KNOW is running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Thursday 20 to Saturday 22 February 2014.
Alternatively, CLICK HERE for more information on the Wolverhampton Grand and to book tickets for future shows, or phone the Box Office directly on 01902 42 92 12.
Press tickets for this performance of Some Girl I Used To Know were provided courtesy of Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.