Re:View – ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’
There are several model/actresses I know who have to see this – I think it’s the story of their lives.
Five years ago, the stage version of Pedro Almodovar’s celebrated farce bombed horribly on Broadway, despite the superstar firepower of Patti LuPone in the lead. Everyone now admits they got it wrong, from the frenetic styling to the ever-fluctuating score. So it’s been rebuilt, stripped down and reshaped into a London show that zings, even if it’s stuck in The Playhouse, at the wrong end of Northumberland Avenue. The result is ridiculously enjoyable.
Following two days and nights in the messed-up life of actress Pepa (Tamsin Greig), her lover’s ex-wife Lucia (Haydn Gwynne), overtense model Candela, her Shi-ite terrorist boyfriend and assorted street-folk from a cabbie to a female matador, Jeffrey Lane’s retooled version has been stuffed with great one-liners and set-pieces. ‘You’re the cleverest model I know,’ says Pepa to Candela, attempting to reassure her, while the scatty model leaves stream-of-consciousness messages for her best friend; ‘If you don’t call me back I’m going to go crazy! What is the name of that cheese I like?’ Everyone revolves around Pepa but she’s losing it over her serial-lothario bf, and no-one does falling apart at the seams like Tamsin Greig, whose stamina more than compensates for a light singing voice.
So the women find empowerment and solidarity while fighting over their useless men – Candela happily accepts the news that her boyfriend is going to blow up the courthouse because it means he wasn’t lying when he said he had plans – then the bed catches fire, the gazpacho gets spiked with valium, the guns and knives come out and everything goes to hell on a Lambretta – all this on an acid-coloured bullring-styled stage with groovy eye-popping Spanish costumes and lighting. Which is slightly at odds with the very glamorous, liltingly gentle score from cult indie musician David Yazbek, whose real strength lies in his low-key numbers. Several weaker songs have been dropped and a couple of new ones added, including a stunning new closing number which hasn’t been recorded anywhere.
The real showstopper here is a classic eleventh-hour song for Lucia, one of the few numbers I can think of specifically addressing the concerns of middle-aged women. Gwynne’s rendition of ‘Invisible’ is heartbreaking and gutsy, and the song deserves to become a standard. It’s not going to go down in the annals of legendary shows, but it’s the perfect winter sun top-up.