West End Girls

The world premiere of West End Girls at Circa on Saturday night, was a superb production. There’s so much to love about the show, it is hard to know where to start.

The play is based on the book by Barbara Tate, who worked in the late 1940s as an innocent 21 year old in a pub, and then ended up as the maid to one of the regulars – a Soho prostitute called Mae.  The play sounded so good that I had so many people wanting to attend with me, to require two extra tickets, as Glee Girl, DC Girl and Stats Girl all wanted to attend. By coincidence all three had their hair done earlier that day, and were a matching set of a redhead, a blonde and a brunette. They all raved about the show also.

Barbara Tate went on to become one of the leading artists in the UK. It was only in her 80s that she published her memoirs of her time working for Mae. Tate had a harsh childhood abandoned by her mother, almost killed by her father as a child, and brought up by a harsh unloving grandmother. Until she meets Mae, she has never really known love or even friendship, and an unlikely friendship begins.

Photo by Stephen A’Court.

Jessica Robinson plays Mae and, as expected, delivers her normal great performance. The part was made for her.

However for me Victoria Abbott as Barbara was the stand out performance. She managed to capture perfectly this shy naive girl, who got caught up in a world she knew nothing about. Abbott played a very different character in Chekov equally well, and this confirms my view that she is one of the future stars of NZ theatre.

The other five actors play multiple roles – 60 in total I believe. Gavin Rutherford’s main role is as Tony, Mae’s lover and boss. Rutherford also busks the West End Girls song (by Pet Shop Boys) on a ukulele, very skillfully.

The whole music and sound effects for the play was brilliant. As Mae got through 150 customers in 36 hours, the supporting cast used various devices to make the sounds on pants going up and down, and condoms being pulled off, and it was a frantic musical cacophony that was comically wonderful.

The play is based on Tate’s memoirs, and was adopted for the stage by Ken Duncum and directed by David O’Donnell. Overall they did a great job of telling the story over two hours.

The first half is on the wonderful blossoming friendship between the 21 year old the naive virgin and the “queen of Soho” prostitute. In the second half, things get more dramatic as tensions arise as Mae goes downhill.

I think this play got everything right – it was a delight to watch and great fun. Wellington is its world premiere – I am confident it will end up being produced in many more cities. Definitely one worth seeing before it closes on 1 September.

John Smythe at Theatreview has reviewed it also, equally positively.