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5 @ 50 by Brad Fraser - Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 20th Apr 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

On the Royal Exchange stage a terrible wrong is being righted.  Canadian playwright Brad Fraser saw with his own eyes the lack of substantial and challenging theatre roles for actresses of a certain age (of any age, come to that) and decided to create an ensemble piece specifically about a set of women in their prime.  The result is 5 @ 50, a caustically funny warts-and-all drama which is receiving its world premiere in Manchester under the expert guidance of the writer’s long-term champion Braham Murray.

Fraser’s quintet of protagonists have known each other since school and are all about to hit the big Five-O.   As they meet up for boozy birthday parties, girlie nights in, liquid lunches and casual drinks we watch the group dynamics shift when past rivalries cause clashes and hidden secrets begin to emerge. 

If there is a hint of Sex and the City about 5 @ 50 that’s probably down to the affluent urban setting (high heels, hard drugs and fancy confectionery all feature) and the range of female archetypes that the playwright deploys.  Fern (Barbara Barnes) is a classic stay-at-home mom; Tricia (Ingrid Lacey) is the career journalist who has trouble with long-term relationships; Lorene (Candida Gubbins) is a serial wife but failed mother; and Norma (Teresa Banham) is the faithful lesbian with a tricky partner.

At the heart of the drama is Jan Ravens’ Olivia, whose character undergoes huge transformations in the course of the play and yet remains an enigma.

Director Braham Murray has cast five fantastic actresses, and if I wasn’t always convinced by the roles written for them to play I was enormously impressed by the way they were acted.  Johanna Bryant’s sophisticated design allows the scenes to shift seamlessly between random locations and the costumes, from sharp business suits to slobby jogging pants, are perfectly suited to their respective characters. 

It’s always interesting to see the birth of a brand new piece of theatre but it’s not always easy to predict its long-term success.  Brad Fraser will know he’s created a classic when Ed Hall’s all-male theatre company Propeller takes 5 @ 50 out on tour.

5 @ 50 is on until Saturday 14 May 2011
Prices £9-£32
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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