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Menopause the Musical, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury ★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

There are, it must be said, precious few musicals which even feature older women, let alone include some of the personal issues that those of a certain age may face. So in one sense, Menopause: The Musical is the much-needed filling of a gap. Unfortunately, the lack of competition in this field also means that it rarely attempts to stretch either itself or its audience.

Billing itself as a musical is something of a misnomer. It is more a selection of popular songs, their lyrics changed to refer to symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes or problems with memory. The cast of four are given caricatures rather than characters, identified by role – “Housewife”, “Soap Star”, “Earth Mother” and “Power Woman” – rather than by name. Of these, Cheryl Fergison is the most naturally charismatic, her Earth Mother exhibiting the same charms that made her EastEnders character one of the series’ most heartwarming.

Providing the greatest degree of character and physical comedy is Rebecca Wheatley – another actress who leads her CV with a TV role, although hers is from Casualty, a series she left 15 years ago. On the evidence of this, that she is less well known for work since is a great shame: she has timing and comedic chops that should be making her far more familiar to audiences. It is a shame that one comedy skit is predicated on the ridiculousness of a lady of her size perusing a rack of sexy lingerie: despite Wheatley exhibiting some good slapstick skills, it feels like the bigger laugh is expected to come at the expense of any woman of an above-average size wanting to feel attractive in the bedroom.

The songs themselves pluck numbers from the popular music canon, with writer Jeanie Linders creating new lyrics. Most are predicated on talking about hot flushes – Heat Wave becomes “I’m having a hot flush / A tropical hot flush”, while Bacharach classic Wishin’ and Hopin’ becomes Drippin’ and Droppin’. By the second act, the songs occasionally move onto other subject matter, with songs about weight gain (the Shoop Shoop Song rewritten to say “If you wanna know / Where the fat cells go / It’s on my hips”, while My Guy becomes My Thighs). That these become the funniest of Linders’ reworkings comes predominantly from the sense of blessed relief at a new cliché to mine.

With no sense of character progression (save for Wheatley’s character coming round to the idea of using a vibrating sex toy) it seems that the women on stage are happy being defined by their symptoms. Or even being used as infomercial fodder – a maker of products for menopausal women, and a sponsor of the show, has its products showcased throughout. Frequent reminders are made that some of the products are on sale in the theatre foyers, although on observation the audience seemed more interested in self-medicating with liberal doses of Chardonnay.

And that may contribute to the audience’s broadly positive and raucous reaction to four talented women. However, what one comes away with is the feeling that both audience and performers deserve better material, material that treats older women as individuals capable of genuine emotion.

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