By Amanda Whittington
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
It must be a dream come true for a playwright to be given the opportunity to take another look at one of his or her works, bringing it up to date and making it better. So Amanda Whittington must have been delighted when she was allowed to take a fresh look at her perennial favourite Ladies’ Day.
The play has become one of the most performed in the UK. According to the programme, hardly a week goes by without Ladies’ Day or its 2007 sequel Ladies Down Under being staged in a village or community hall.
Ladies’ Day features a group of women who work in a fish-packing factory. It was originally set in 2005 when York Racecourse stepped in to host Royal Ascot while the Berkshire venue was closed for refurbishment.Whittington’s first rewrite came in 2018 when the action was transferred to the West Midlands and was set it in a world of selfies, Ed Sheeran and Megan Markle. One of the play’s characters, Linda, is a big fan of Tony Christie and the legendary crooner actually appeared on stage during a production at Wolverhampton Grand.
Now Whittington has taken another look at the script and it’s fascinating to hear what was going on in 2005 bearing in mind what we know today. For instance, one of the women thinks Prince Harry will settle down and never be heard of again!
Some of the play’s witticisms have been left out though; a couple of droll lines about Camilla have been omitted, presumably out of respect now that she’s Queen Consort. A pity because in the previous version they really raised a laugh.
I’ve seen Ladies’ Day on a number of occasions, both professional and amateur productions, and I can honestly say this version is the best of the lot.
That’s because the four women on stage immerse themselves in their roles; the audience feels empathy for them as they each reveal an ordeal that their workmates never guessed they were going through.
Annie Kirkman is fabulous as intellectually challenged, brash, loud Shelley whose quest for fame and fortune masks her frailties. She discovers that her workmates have similar insecurities once the alcohol has loosened their tongues.
Kate Wood diligently portrays Pearl, the oldest of the quartet who is leaving to take early retirement, as a motherly confidante who the others look up to despite her old-fashioned ways. Because of this, the revelation that she has a secret lover is particularly affecting.
Tanya-Loretta Dee as Jan is delightful when drunk, disgusted with Pearl when her affair is revealed yet frustrated that she is unable to show her feelings for factory supervisor Joe.
Jo Patmore catches the eye as Linda, the vulnerable, exploited young woman who eventually looks to her own needs rather than those of other people.
Gareth Cassidy has the unenviable task of playing all six male characters in the play but does a commendable job. He differentiates admirably between Joe, flashy ticket tout Fred, stuffy TV commentator Jim, Irish jockey Pat, penniless pundit Kevin and amorous bookie Barry.
Some of the audience on the night I saw Ladies’ Day had dressed up for the occasion in posh dresses and fascinators. They were rewarded with a thoroughbred performance in Marieke Audsley’s production which is a real winner and is odds-on to be a success when it transfers to Bolton’s Octagon.
* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website