Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Playhouse Theatre, London
January 12 – May 9
It is often fascinating to listen to the pre and post show conversations of fellow patrons, ranging as they do from the insightful to the ridiculous (seriously, I once overheard people complaining that “The Lion King” musical had too much music). Pre-show at “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, all talk was along the same lines: “Is this a musical?” “What is this about anyway?” “I don’t know anything about this.” Unlike many, I at least knew a little… that it is a musical… based on the 1988 Spanish movie nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. However, this did little to aid my initial understanding as to what exactly was happening on stage.
“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” begins slowly and somewhat confusingly, but soon crescendos to a farcical comedy, complete with bumbling police of Dogberry/Verges ilk. It is a show of quick set changes and hilarious one liners, set firmly in its time context (like the film, the musical is set in Spain in the late 1980s); the set is an almost cartoonish cacophony of primary colours and fluorescent shades. The lighting, however, leaves room for improvement, with actors lit in green, appearing like they should be defying gravity rather than glamping it up in mad Madrid.
Pepa (Tamsin Greig) has just been left by her lover Ivan (Jerome Pradon), who had previously abandoned his wife of 19 years, Lucia (Haydn Gwynne). The plot thickens as his ex wife and their son, Carlos, along with his fiancé, become involved. And then there is Pepa’s friend Candela, who is on the run from a lover she suspects of being a terrorist. Over 48 hours of chaos, everyone’s paths keep crossing in a complicated, confusing but very funny manner. The characters are stereotypical – a Latin lothario, spoiled son, neurotic and needy woman, jilted wife, but this is not a show set to provide revelations regarding the human spirit or anything of such serious contemplation, but a fun foray into some Spanish silliness.
The melodies all have sufficient light and shade, but there are only a handful of standouts, such as ‘Lovesick’ and the pre-interval ‘On the Verge’. But it is clear that this is Greig’s first foray into musical theatre and it’s left to secondary and tertiary characters to carry most of the choreographic and musical weight. (Indeed, it is strange that in a show about women, the men are the strongest singers.) She does, however, show some superb comic timing. And Gwynne is little short of hilarious as long abandoned wife Lucia. Indeed, the cast is generally a good one, even if the characters that they play are lightweight.
“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” is the type of show that is what it is – not life-changing or standing-ovation-worthy, but darkly comedic and a damn good time. And it is well worth a look, especially if your pre-show knowledge is limited, for as the show advises, a fool’s paradise is still a paradise.