Monday, 18 May 2009

Menopause The Musical Cheryl Baker Sue Hodge Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne Review

Menopause The Musical
Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne

18th-23rd May 2009
Performance seen
Monday, May 18th

Menopause The Musical starring Cheryl Baker, Sue Hodge, Susie Fenwick and Ellen O'Grady

Cheryl Baker
Sue Hodge
Susie Fenwick
Ellen O'Grady

Guest unplanned appearance : Female Stagehand

It is unusual for me to post a review the day after the performance but I am doing this for a reason.

The reason is we found it is just so very hard to find reliable information about this show anywhere. There is very little currently on the internet and other than, ex Bucks Fizz star ,Cheryl Baker it is currently practically impossible to find out who is actually starring in the current touring production.

Cheryl BakerI wonder if other potential audience members might think that there is only one named star because the rest of the cast are not as good or that the show may not be any good because of the lack of information available?

I am aware even though I have been keeping these reviews going only a year or so here (and twinned on over 1000 potential theatre visitors a month are already reading these comments.

Well before I continue lets get the overall verdict out of the way in the beginning so you can decide if you want to book tickets.

My own verdict is that I thought this was an outstanding production in terms of vocal performances and that it was the funniest show I can remember in ages.

We have previously seen the hilarious Sue Hodge in two productions at The Devonshire Park Theatre - Big Bad Mouse with Cannon and Ball and the celebrity retirement home comedy There's No Place Like a Home. Those were both two terrific comedies and Sue was also, of course, funny in 'Allo 'Allo. But I really believe that as far as Sue Hodge comedy goes Menopause The Musical beats all those hands down. She is to put it bluntly bloody hilarious!

What's it about? Well that's pretty obvious from the advertising posters "Menopause The Musical. The hilarious celebration of women and the change".

In a nutshell four very different women of menopausal age happen to meet up whilst shopping for underwear in Selfridges, London. There is no "story" as such as with the more traditional musicals. Instead 25 classic baby-boomer songs have been hilariously relyriced sharing the changes that women (and their partners) have to endure during a woman's mid-life hormonal fluctuations.

I put in "(and their partners)" above because I felt this was important.

There was a good attendance at this opening night but I feel it could have been so much better. Mainly because women outnumbered men by about 20-1 (that ratio may have even been greater).

I guess the advertising phrase I have mentioned previously "Menopause The Musical. The hilarious celebration of women and the change" is partly to blame for that. It does give the distinct impression that only the female sex will find this funny.


As a bloke I found it incredibly entertaining and extremely funny. In fact, after the show, Cheryl asked me from a man's point of view what I thought of it. I wasn't lying when I said I thought it was great. I also had a rather long conversation with Sue Hodge who also agreed this production is just as funny to both sexes. After all women may be the ones who go through the menopause but husbands, partners and family members should all be able to appreciate (and laugh at) the consequences of those hormonal imbalances. Hot flushes, night sweats, desperation for a loo, lack of sex, insomnia, weight gain, clothes not fitting any more, mood swings - they're all covered in songs including "Puff, My God I'm Draggin" and "Stayin' Awake, Stayin Awake" to name but 2 from the impressively reworded lively tracks.

Susie Fenwick and Ellen O'Grady in Menopause The MusicalSo well known highly talented, down to earth, singer and TV personality Cheryl Baker appears "as advertised", Sue Hodge was a lovely unannounced surprise but there are two other cast members who don't have the honour of being named anywhere really. They're not on the web, leaflets or posters and even the tour programmes hadn't been printed yet.

This is when I feel sorry for incredibly talented people who aren't big name celebrities as I don't feel they get the credit they deserve. So I'm going to make up for this big time here:

Trained at the Italie Conti School, Susie Fenwick is an extremely experienced West End performer with credits including: The King and I (Adelphi) and then in Hans Andersen with Tommy Steele (London Palladium).
Other theatre credits: Star to Be in Annie (first tour), Cabaret (Theatre Royal, Plymouth), Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (Comedy and Library, Manchester), Dolores in Spin of the Wheel (Comedy), Les Misérables (Palace), Aspects of Love (Prince of Wales), Sam in Viva Espâna (Arts), Simone in The Baker’s Wife (workshop), Merrily We Roll Along (Shaftesbury), A Cavalcade of Coward (Piccadilly), Copacabana (Prince of Wales), Fields of Ambrosia (Aldwych), Side by Side (Dublin), Annie (Victoria Palace), Beauty and the Beast (Dominion), Napoleon (Shaftesbury), Jennyanydots in Cats (New London), Romeo and Juliet (Piccadilly), The Woman in White (Palace) and Show Boat (Royal Albert Hall).

Television credits include: Quiet as a Nun, Day of the Triffids, Solid Soul, Pebble Mill and
Stage by Stage.
the cast albums of Aspects of Love and Les Misérables, Fields of Ambrosia, TV advert jingles and a solo record of the theme song for G’Day Summer Bay for ITV.

She has also made numerous appearances as a guest vocalist on concert tours throughout the UK.

It shouldn't come as any great surprise that with credits like these she is an incredible vocal performer and a great entertainer.

I must say that in this show Susie holds a single note perfectly for what seems like an eternity. It is certainly the longest I can remember any singer holding any note for.

Ellen O'Grady has an equally impressive background both on TV and theatre

TV: Doctors (Margi Flynn), Daddy's Girl, Holby City (Nadine Woods), Goodnight Sweetheart, Teen Summit, The Raynor Show

Theatre:Forty, Cinderella, The Snow Queen, Bad Girls The Musical,Sleeping Beauty, Trumpet, The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, Camelot, Henry IV part 1,
A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Ballad Of Little Jo, Peter Pan, Hello Again, Fame, Ace Of Clubs, Trickster's Payback, Eyam , Blues In The Night, The Tempest, Paint Your Wagon, Burning Habits, Out Of The Blue, Macbeth, Chicago, The Four Figure With Harlequine, Carmen, Nine, The King And I, It's A Girl, The Man Who Lit Up The World, Black Heroes, Medea, Hair.

Ellen's vocal power and range is utterly amazing and like Susie she is an incredibly accomplished entertainer too.

This is not a show with two stars but a show with 4 incredible performers.

I think I can guarantee however that the first night audience at Eastbourne got to see a funny scene that is unlikely to be repeated anywhere in the country. You could call it the mother of all theatre outtakes. Although, for copyright reasons, recording is banned it is one of those moments that really should have seen the light of day on You Tube. I am aware the Devonshire Park have a camera of their own looking at the stage... I wonder if it was recording at the time?

Many theatres have sloping stages (higher at the back) as it assists in the illusion of greater depth of the set and performers appear taller. The Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne has one of the most steeply sloping stages.

It is not a rare occurence at all to see the odd prop, at this venue, fall to the floor and roll off the front of the stage. But it is usually something small like a cup, a glass or a pencil.

Tonight things were a little different.

The second half of the show had begun and already in previous scenes the very busy female stagehands had visibly been taking a little extra time to ensure that the props which had wheels were locked and were stable.

Along came a scene where the main prop was a typical lingerie-store, tubular steel type, large gament rack adorned with many items of lingerie of various shapes and sizes from the most skimpy to full body armour (a slight exaggeration there but you get the picture).

The stagehand positioned it horizontally across the back of the stage and it appeared to be stationary. She exited at the back leaving an empty stage.

You've guessed what happened next Mr Trolley decided it was having a life of its own and started to move. But at this stage the stagehands and cast were all behind the scenery and the back and could not see what was going on.

Slowly the trolley started to move towards the edge of the stage and the front row.

It wasn't at great speed as there clearly was some brake in place but not enough for this stage but without anybody on hand to stop it there was only one place it could end up.

The trolley, to gain extra laughter, decided to change direction as it decended, changing from it's horizontal position to facing the audience head on.

The audience were unable to intervene either as there is an orchestra pit in between the front seats and the stage.

At the end of the stage it appeared to stop for a few seconds at the "lip" of the stage. But Mr Trolley had not finished his performance yet.

With the combination of momentum, weight of object and gravity. Mr Trolley, in apparent slow motion started to tilt forward to vertical (still getting cheers from the audience) before considerately crashing sideways into the orchestra pit to a huge cheer, laughs and applause.

But this little hilarious diversion from the script hadn't ended yet.

No way!

One of the hard working stagehand girls arrived to salvage the lingerie rack which, despite its crash, was still in a quite salvageable position. The rack was intact, all that was needed was to put it back on the stage and the lingerie to be rehung.

Unfortunately a well intentioned lady in the front row, a couple of seats from me ensured this unscripted farce was not over yet.

She leant over the orchestra pit to try to help the stagehand restore the rack to vertical.

A bad move as she grasped it by the top rail and in the process dislodging the side support which fell right. Surprised at this she must have moved her hand again as the other side support fell left. Any remaining lingerie slid off the upper rail to the floor.

As she dropped the top rail that was the death toll for this scene as planned. The rack was in pieces and the lingerie props were out of order and all over the place.

Reaction from the audience : total hysterics
Reaction from the very professional (and still behind the scenes) cast stunned silence.

Nobody knew what was going to happen next but the scene was saved by the stagehand who had kept the audience laughing with comments like "You just can't get the staff" as she left the stage.

Apparently the planned scene was Sue Hodge's character apparently browsing through the whole rail before opting for a "very conservative, unsexy item"

Instead to a huge round of applause and continued laughter the stagehand appeared and held out the skimpiest of lingerie items in her own impression of a clothes hook. I have to praise this young lady for her courage as by this stage she was so nervous her hand visibly shaking.

What followed was a very funny, unscripted scene by Sue Hodge revolving around this single item of underwear.

But to anybody who didn't know you may have thought this was picking up on the original script. In fact it was only talking to Sue afterwards that we discovered it was nothing of the sort. It was the performance of a completely professional actress eminating from the idea of a stagehand.

A quite amazing theatrical moment. I just hope the Devonshire Park do record their performances. If "Outtake TV" had a theatrical equivalent this extraordinary 5 minutes or so should be on it.

If you are or you know the name of the terrific stagehand and she doesn't mind being named here please let me know and I'll change the text to credit her.

Sue HodgeAfter the show and being members of the
Friends Of The Devonshire Park Theatre we had the option of meeting the cast on the first night. I have to say with all cast members being able to attend (which isn't always the case) it was a pleasure meeting such a friendly cast who clearly have a great friendly working relationship.

What a shame that other than a couple of us members, a few committee members and a few of the theatre staff nobody took the opportunity to do this. I'm sure the cast don't mind this as it does allow them to relax for a few minutes. But out of an estimated 1700 members even I was surprised at the poor turnout. For anybody in the Hastings/Eastbourne, Brighton areas who appreciates good theatre there are other benefits such as discounts on opening night in addition to the meet the cast opportunity. Take a look at the above link for further details.

So there you have it. This is probably the only comprehensive review you will have on
this extremely funny show from a male because there is the belief only women will find it funny.

That belief is rubbish. Any woman who is going to see this who has a husband with a sense of humour should take their partner or husband along - it's not a female only show - it's not a man bashing show. It's just a really funny look at how women and all those around them are affected by the menopause. You can't change it.... so why not go and laugh at it!

After all in this show anything can happen.... and probably will!

Menopause The Musical starring, left to right, Ellen O'Grady, Sue Hodge, Cheryl Baker,Susie Fenwick,

5 out of 5 for Menopause The Musical

Because this super comedy deserves a huge audience here are the planned dates and venues for the 2009 tour:

12-14 May: Whitehall Theatre, Dundee 01382 434940
18-23 May: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne 01323 412000
26-30 May: Belgrade Theatre, Coventry 024 7655 3055
1-2 June: Assembly Halls, Tunbridge Wells 01892 530613
4-6 June: Key Theatre, Peterborough 01733 207239
9-11 June: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon 0208 688 9291
12-13 June: Connaught Theatre, Worthing 01903 206206
16-17 June: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft 01502 533200
18-20 June: Journal Tyne Theatre, Newcastle 0844 493 9999
22-24 June:King Theatre, Southsea 023 9282 8282
25-27 June: Capitol Theatre, Horsham 01403 750220
29 June - 4 July: Theatre Royal, Lincoln 01522 534570
6-11 July: Malvern Theatre, Malvern 01684 892277

Note these dates and phone numbers were taken from a leaflet incorrectly stating that the Eastbourne Show was at the Congress Theatre. Obviously I cannot be held responsible for any other inaccuracies in the information above.

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