Women On The Verge Of Extreme Karaoke: The Flannelettes

By Johnny Fox Last edited 36 months ago
Women On The Verge Of Extreme Karaoke: The Flannelettes ★★★☆☆ 3

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Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Richard Cameron‘s piece directed by Hull Truck founder Mike Bradwell has instantly credible characters and an interesting situation. Cheerful Delie has special needs and is on holiday with her Aunty Brenda, who runs a women’s refuge in the only village in Yorkshire still not recovered from the pit closures of the 1980s. Like the Iraq war and the holocaust, the miners’ strike is the gift that keeps on giving to contemporary playwrights and much of the power of the polemic is eroded by familiarity.

Delie, Aunty Brenda and pawnbroker mate George — the only man permitted inside the women’s refuge because it’s dramatically convenient and he occasionally wears a frock — form a terrible trio of buskers to Motown karaoke tracks. The three of them look like a tribute band to the Les/Lesley character from Benidorm. The motif driven home by every drumbeat of The Shirelles or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is that downtrodden women find redemption in a vision of ‘the man’ who will become their rock. Against their vivid problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, ignorance and exclusion from society, this is bathetic enough to be Benefits Street: The Musical.

The play is lifted by good acting. You engage immediately with Emma Hook’s Delie and feel for her in the sad chain of events that you can see coming but she can’t. Suzan Sylvester is a credible calm centre as Brenda and Holly Campbell makes a poignant friend for Delie as waif-like caravan dweller Roma, surviving brutality and fantasising about the house she’ll never see built.

Cameron exchanges comic one-liners for a darker tone in the second half but the halting direction, clunky scene changes and disconnected punctuation of the Motown melodies make an endurance of what could be a much sharper contrapuntal comedy drama if someone were brave enough to make cuts.

The Flannelettes is at the King's Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington until 6 June, evenings at 7pm. Tickets £15-25 from theatre website. We saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

SOLT

Last Updated 18 May 2015