WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN Playhouse, SW1

A FABULOUS FANDANGO OF FEMALE FURY…

 
Sing to the lunatic moon: Hispanic hysteria, hilarity, tangled lives, 48 hours of Madrid madness. I had my doubts about this one, as did many others: Bartlett Sher’s musicalization of Pedro Almodovar’s wicked, witty tale of betrayal, coincidence and answerphones in 1960’s Madrid didn’t catch fire on Broadway. But now, with Jeffrey Lane’s book sharpened up and staged with simple elegance, rather marvellous songs from David Yazbek and a clutch of superb performances, it falls to London to propel it up and away into the stars. Maybe, too, it hits a particular British and European note: sunset sentimentality cut with sour-lime pragamatism, and real feeling for betrayed love delivered with dry acceptance that hey, even bitterness has a bounce to it. “Everyone’s a genius and everyone’s a fool; sometimes a raindrop is a tear, and sometimes a jewel”.

 

 
Lovers of the film will find the whole chaotic plot here. Pepa (Tamsin Greig, who it turns out can sing like a lark without losing any of her tragi-comedic subtlety) has been abandoned by her lover Ivan. 19 years earlier he also left his wife Lucia, who has been in a mental home (“very nunny, corridors smelling of soup”) and has emerged ferocious to sue him and terrify her wimpish son and his chilly bride . Almost more wonderful than Greig is Haydn Gwynne as Lucia: sometimes nutty as a fruitcake, sometimes utterly sincere and heartbreaking, she deploys a fierce raw mezzo aria about the invisibility of middle-age and wasted wifely life “I didn’t want the money I just want the time back”. In Sher’s pleasingly fluid, economically surreal direction she at one point haunts the younger women like a Miss Havisham in black manilla, growling and stalking. She’s a treat.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, of course, there is the scatty youngr Candela – Anna Skellern – who finds she is having a fling with a terrorist (very topical). “My boyfriend has an Uzi and he doesn’t clean the shower” is, so far, my favourite lyric of 2015. When Pepa asks “Do you have a lawyer?” “I did” wails the girl “But he went back to his wife”. Glorious. As for Ivan’s big number , averring that “love is eternal but the faces sometimes change”, my female companion, whose past is more colourful and Latino than mine, practically had a conniption recognizing it.

 

 
At which point I wondered whether this show is perhaps more of a girl thing, and ought to offer a nice calming creche in a nearby pub for women to park their menfolk in for the evening. But the men around were loving it too: maybe betrayal and mid-life irritability are genderless. Well, of course they are. So it won me right round, and I’d predict it the kind of gentle long-running success that met ONCE – another morphed movie with an eccentric loving heart. Rejoice in Gwynne acrobatic in a pink miniskirt on a Lambretta, in the erotic possibilities of drugged gazpacho, and some blissful gags and a cod flamenco moment from Ricard Afonso as the taxi driver. Olé!

 
box office 0844 871 7631. http://www.atgtickets.com to May

rating: four   4 Meece Rating

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