Mutton – July 2007

6/10

Devised and performed by Julia Munrow, Donna Flinn and Jean Heard

Venue: Mill Studio, Guildford

Date: Thursday 5th July 2007

This was a series of sketches based on the experiences of women getting older, past their prime. It started with a slide show. First we were welcomed to the show, and as we didn’t respond, the next slide welcomed us a bit louder! This went on for a little while, getting us warmed up, and made use of various techniques, such as the diminishing letter sizes on an optician’s chart, to get across the problems we face as we age. Then there were some video sketches, mostly very funny. I especially liked the woman (played by Donna) who was trying to use her daughter’s mobile to change the channel on her TV. She also played a woman who was visiting her doctor, and was so relieved to find out she might have dementia, as she had been worried it was the menopause. We also get to see a number of these characters in the later parts of the show.

The first sketch was called Changing Rooms, and had the three main actors trying on clothes in a changing room. Julia was attempting to get into one of those tops that’s all straps and a few scraps of material – how on earth are you meant to put them on? She was certainly having problems. They were actually looking for outfits for Donna’s daughter’s wedding (Donna’s the one who confuses the mobile and the remote), and it was even more bizarre to see them wearing teeny fashions.

Now the stage is set for the next sketch, Wine Bar. A table and three chairs are brought forward by a supposed stage hand, wearing red heels. She grumbles a lot about how this will do in her back, etc., and after a while this was quite funny. She later joins in some of their sketches – once she’d got a pair of trainers on – but sadly, I can’t find any credit for her anywhere.

At the wine bar, the three ladies weave their way over to the only available table, carrying their bottle of wine. They get caught up in the price of it – £35! There’s some humour in the way none of them can work out how much it costs per glass, including Jean not being able to use her mobile phone as a calculator. Donna tries to call her daughter, who’s really clever, but she can’t get the remote control she’s brought with her to dial correctly. They settle for 6 glasses at £6 a glass, and then tackle the trickier subject of how much per sip. This then leads to some unpleasantness, as Julia has sipped more than the others, so should pay more for the bottle – haven’t they already paid, then? They end up getting another bottle, so even if they can’t figure out how much each one owes, they’ll be too sloshed to care.

More grumbling as the table and chairs are removed, then enter the three with yoga mats. Donna is teaching yoga to the others, but during this oasis of peace and calm, Jean has a thought. (Don’t laugh, it can still happen to women of our age!) I don’t remember all the details, but basically she talks with her spirit guide, and comes up with a dead tropical fish, that’s still angry at being accidentally cooked by Julia, and served up to her kids! At the end of their session, they do a “mantra”, chanting for Jean, as Tara, to get a job.

So in the next scene, Job For Tara, she’s got one. At this point I should mention that the whole evening is sponsored by Tena, the purveyors of feminine hygiene products. Indeed, as we came in to the Mill, there were sample incontinence pads scattered about the seating, in case we were “laughing too much to care”. When her friends arrive to check out the new career, it turns out Tara’s doing promotional work, dressed as a Tena pad. She’s hugely embarrassed. And then Julia suggests she goes back into children’s entertainment, which she and Donna used to do. It’s such a good idea, that the next sketch, Party Entertainers, shows us their skills at that particular job.

Of course, there are no spare actors to play the kids, so they use the audience. I haven’t felt so young for a long time. This is the audience participation number, and they do it brilliantly. Tara is some superwoman type, Donna is sort of dressed as a mutant ninja turtle (complete with tail), and Julia plays a master of ceremonies. They split us into three. This caused one poor child to cry, as he/she thought they were going to chop us up, but it turned out it was three groups, so no one was harmed. In fact, Julia kindly escorted one of the children in the front row off to the toilet so she wouldn’t wet herself. The little girl even had her mummy’s handbag with her.

Then came the singsong. We were in the middle group, so after those on our right had sung about hot flushes, turning into power surges, we got to sing “I’ve got the memory loss blues in my head…”, with clapping! We were really good, but then the third group got to do a great number, with movements, about the pelvic floor rock, so we looked a bit poor by comparison. Then they got us all standing up and doing all three songs together, which, amazingly enough, we did. It was great fun, and left the place buzzing at the end of the first half.

The second half opened with Women in Power, where all three ladies play Prime Minister types from their respective countries. Julia is from Russia, and wore a silly fur hat to prove it, Donna was the British PM, and Jean played a French Premier. They quickly put the world to rights, abolishing war and deciding all feminine hygiene products should be free. If only it were that simple!

Chez Gordon Ramsay gave us Jean and Donna as friends coming in to a restaurant where Julia is a seriously menopausal waitress. Actually, she comes across as more of stroppy teenager at first, but then the hormones kick in and the threats of violence escalate. Mind you, I have some sympathy, as the two customers are having a good old time changing their minds every five seconds. Julia finally crawls off as the two women scarper.

At the Spa has a conversation between Julia and Jean being interrupted by Donna, who’s in the middle chair. They’re all waiting for various layers of paint to dry, and Donna, who seems to be one of the ladies from the video sketches, is complaining about her terrible day, having to cancel her bridge lesson to see her chiropractor, only to be told there was nothing wrong with her back. Across her, Jean and Julia are discussing their lives and problems. Jean was having some problem with a supermarket (that’s what set Donna off, having to pick up her own groceries that the delivery man had left by the door!), while Julia’s husband was annoyed she didn’t read her emails. If she had, she would have known to iron his shirt for him. (And he was only next door!) Jean’s story about the supermarket includes one comment where the person serving her asks for something, and Julia is dismissive. She doesn’t believe it, because Jean states that the supermarket employee said “please” (as if).

The Queue was preceded by the grumbling stage hand commenting on how she wouldn’t mind doing some of this stuff – if those three could do, it couldn’t be all that hard! She then joins them in the queue, getting some strange looks from the others. Julia comes on first, in leathers, and then Jean and Donna join her, obviously together. Finally the stage hand comes on, and tags along at the back. We don’t know what they’re queuing for at this stage. Attempting to make polite conversation, Jean finds out Julia’s character’s name, and assumes from her manner and dress that she’s a lesbian. Turns out she’s going to enrol in a car maintenance class, ‘cos that’s where the men are. Jean and Donna tell her they go to the golf course for that, and when Julia says she doesn’t know how to play, they inform her that they don’t either. So they agree to meet up at the golf course.

Golf! When Jean brings on her golf bag and plonks it down in the middle of the stage, and then puts a fake golf ball on the floor and starts to wiggle her way into a golfing stance, I was a little concerned because she was aiming straight at me. Fortunately she was right when she said she didn’t know how to play – she swings and misses. What a relief! She’s joined by the others, and it’s clear they’re beyond hopeless – they don’t even know which direction the hole is in! Julia is totally obsessed with the rules, and reckons Donna was out of order peeing beside a bush – she’s supposed to use a tree. After a low-flying ball narrowly misses them, they agree that the rules are silly (typical men’s thing), and head off to the bar for a drink.

In Dating Agency, Donna plays Sarah, and older woman who’s trying out the dating game after what’s presumably a long gap. Turns out she’s lost her husband – “lost” as in he stayed on the Piccadilly line train after she got off, and she hasn’t seen him since. She doesn’t rate high enough in the agency’s scoring system, so she’s offered the chance to be a model in the Trusty Trendsetters setup (next sketch). She lost out because of her looks (5), dropping down to a 4 because she didn’t have money, dropping to a 3 because she didn’t have any celebrity friends, etc. Jean, as the head of the agency, keeps calling her Sally instead of Sarah, but she gets it right in the next section.

Trusty Trendsetters is one of those operations that sells you stuff you don’t want at ridiculous prices in the comfort of someone’s home, or in this case, a hotel function room. The humour is mainly visual here, as Donna looks absolutely ridiculous in the outfits she’s wearing. There’s a Trusty Trendsetters apron, which doubles as a bag (in case you have to jet off to foreign climes with only half an hour to pack) and finally as a waterproof hat. The basic black top is long enough for Donna/Sarah, the short one, to wear as a dress, and can be worn either way round, giving two distinct looks – the black dress with round neck, and the black dress with V-neck. Fantastic! Underneath, Sarah is wearing the multifunctional underwear and swimsuit, all in black, and there’s also a wrap which can do service as a throw, a beach rug and a skirt! Whew! And all a mere snip at £499! There’s also a range of Trusty Trendsetters cosmetics which can make you look ever so much younger, though if they work, Sarah hadn’t been using them. All in all, a very entertaining sketch. For the finale, they did a song, with the stage hand joining them on plastic electric guitar.

There was a lot of good material in this show, and it was generally very well received by the audience. I did notice some other jokes that just seemed to slip under the radar, and I couldn’t help feeling there was more to be got out of this. Perhaps a good director could help them tighten it up? Anyway, I was very glad I’d seen it, and it gave us a lot of laughs.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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