Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Theatre review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown



Set in Madrid in the late 1980s, the disco-coloured, pop-infused black comedy centres on Peppa (Tamsin Greig, starring in her first musical theatre role), a middle-aged actress who at the start of the story is dumped by her long-time boyfriend Ivan which, you guessed it, brings her to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Throw in a delusional ex-wife, a hysterical best friend and a whole load of valium, and you've got the ingredients for this mad play with songs that at times resembles a good, old-fashioned farce.

I would define this as a play with songs, rather than the musical it's billed as, as I feel that would more accurately describe this theatrical adaptation of the Oscar-nominated film of the same name by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. Yes, there are plenty of catchy tunes filling the auditorium of the Playhouse Theatre on the edge of London's West End, but they feel like a narrator to the piece more so than that the actual driving force of the show, which is more often the case with classic musicals.

While Greig's singing chops were surprisingly adequate from the very first notes her voice crackles with emotion and she holds her own in the upbeat, fast-paced numbers that follow as well it's her powerful performance as an actress which really makes her stand out from the rest of the cast. In the first act in particular she was hugely compelling to watch and I was completely enthralled by her presence on stage.

That's not to say that the rest of the cast doesn't get a chance to shine, because they do; Haydn Gwynne was delightfully crazy as Ivan's ex-wife, demanding that he give her back the past 20 years of her life; Anna Skellern put the 'drama' in drama queen as Peppa's hyperactive, ditzy best friend Candela; and, in smaller but not any less memorable roles, Haydn Oakley and Willemijn Verkaik elated the audience with some truly impressive musical theatre voices.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a laugh-out-loud funny portrayal of what can happen when some, perhaps already mentally unstable, women are faced with unrequited love and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. Heightening their emotions and actions into the absurd, it portrays the lengths these women are willing to go to when driven by sheer passion in a hilarious, clever and, most of all, hugely memorable way.



Running at the Playhouse Theatre in London, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is taking bookings until 9 April 2015. Buy tickets here.

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