King’s Head Theatre, London – until 5 November 2016
‘World famous in Australia’, Amanda Muggleton’s claim to celebrity in the UK is as Chrissie Latham in Prisoner Cell Block H. I’ve never seen this show, last aired in 1986, but know its popular notoriety as a cult piece of kitsch.
Muggleton seems a nice enough woman and from her biography has clearly been a go-to leading lady in both plays and musicals with a long pedigree to rival Imelda Staunton, and her director Nadia Tass is one of Australia’s finest film-makers.
So it must be author Roger Hall’s fault that this play comes over as a trivial pursuit for the Lambrini generation: vapid, mindless women who are as easily pleased as they are easily laid. At least, that’s the message that defines his feeble depiction of the desperate housewives who populate The Book Club and their thinly drawn and weakly stereotyped husbands, sons and lovers.
As this is a one-woman show, the characters are realised only through Muggleton’s scathing commentaries in the mouth of once-literary but now blowsy Deborah, a superannuated Shirley Valentine from the Sydney or Sydenham suburbs: it’s quite hard to tell where the piece is set. For the purposes of dramatic differentiation, her woman friends are conveniently Greek, Welsh, Swiss, Northern and posh: she is consistently terrible at all the accents.
There’s intermittent interaction where Muggleton treats members of the audience as though they were guests in her onstage home, sharing nods and winks, asking ‘where did I put my phone’ and flashing her limbs at them. As a technique, it’s occasionally amusing, although it was mostly older Islington ladies in sub-Jaeger separates who were smiling most broadly. They also shrieked at the very obvious jokes.
Muggleton has been trailing this production around Australia since 1999 and it’s surprising she seems hesitant over some of the lines, although some local references have been inserted into the script with all the subtlety of an amateur pantomime.
Instead of Fifty Shades of Grey, and Anna Karenina, Muggleton’s book club should study Joanna Murray-Smith’s superb Aussie novel Sunnyside, to see how much better crafted is her tale of affluent suburban women who buffer themselves against disaffection and boredom with extra-marital entertainment.
until November 5.
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