The five women playing all of the parts, including the male parts, might have reminded me of my school days, and as for the song and dance sections – well they might have been better sticking to taped music – but it is a long time since I’ve laughed so much in an hour as I did last night at the opening of It’s a Girl! at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, south London.
The conceit behind the production is that this is being presented by The “Bradshaw Regain Your Shape After Pregnancy Coffee Circle.” “Bradshaw” – somewhere Londoners call “up north” and northerners call “down South” – has, at the beginning of the play, been selected as the site for a “low-level” nuclear waste dump. They’re “trying to twin us with Chernobyl,” one of the circle complains.
But at first the identified heroine of the piece, Linda Bragg (Joanna Doyle, who does a nice line in pony-tailed vulnerability) is more concerned about getting pregnant, with her husband Melvyn (played to full comic effect by Marie Blount), who’s enthusiastic about the project. But when she succeeds, without the help of the American gangster-style doctor (Margaret-Ann Bain), her husband loses interest: “You’ve got a full tank and you want me to squeeze in a gallon,” he complains. Then he’s horrified at her sudden desire for a home birth: the bed’s “not even orthopaedic,” he exclaims.
The apparently frail Linda, while offering a social history in a sentence – “Me Mum had one in a prefab, two in a back-to-back and three on the 19th floor of a tower block” – sticks to her guns, and with the sometimes reluctant support of the coffee circle – an appropriately ill-matched group thrown together simply by the accident of date of conception – stands up for the village against the waste dump.
This is sketch comedy rather than drama, so the characterisation is Spice Girls-simple. There’s the pink-tracksuited, hoop-earringed Mary (who is always trying to get the “girls” to go down the pub) – played with verve by Sarah Armstrong. She has only to say “I think you have to be philosophical,” to crack up both her fellow coffee circle members and the audience. Celia, the grumpy opera-lover is the determined loner; Eve is the smart, cool one who does the “presentation” of the play within the play (and Bain does a good job stepping in and out of the two “roles”); and Mina is the middle class one who is into yoga and rose-hip tea.
Then there’s the histrionic, distinctly odd, childless spinster midwife (Avril Poole), who starts off on the doctor’s side but is won over to the women’s cause – of home birth and Greenpeace-style protest against the construction of a dump.
The playwright John Burrows has the wisecracks fly thick and fast, the tears are jerked for all their worth, and its hardly surprising that there’s a happy ending to love, and life and babies.
It’s a Girl! would make a great “girls’ night out,” although the boys in the audience were laughing just as hard tonight. But it is only playing until Sunday, so you’ll have to arrange it quickly. And you might want to watch out for the production company, Pedlar – I have a feeling they’ll be good at entertainment.
The White Bear Theatre is two minutes from Kennington Tube. Tickets can be booked on 020 7793 9193.
For more London theatre reviews – both from the fringe and the West End – and gallery and museum reviews, check out My London Your London – a personal cultural guide.