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Dirty Dating.Com – The Stockport Plaza Theatre

Published by: Cameron Lowe on 6th Sep 2012 | View all blogs by Cameron Lowe

DirtyDating.Com Cast
Review by Lucy Hammond

Many millions of soap fans will be aware of Pauline Fleming’s talents as an actress through her roles as Val Walker in Brookside and Penny King in Coronation Street. Now theatre-goers are being introduced to her talents as a writer and producer, as her brand-new company, Pauline Fleming Productions, launches with the premiere of her very first play, Dirty Dating.Com.

 

Prompted to write the piece by her real-life experiences, Pauline shares the highs and lows of the dating game in the twenty-first century, as a group of girls take up speed-dating in an attempt to find Mr Right. But not all goes according to plan and the women seek their revenge as the story unfolds in this empowering and uplifting piece of feel-good theatre, which unashamedly celebrates ‘girl-power’.

 

It would be easy to dismiss this production as yet another example of a genre of theatre that has been done to death – the ‘girls-night-out’ show. After all, recent years have given us a plethora of raucous, man-bashing productions which do nothing more than reduce men’s contribution to society as mere sperm donors. From the top of my head come productions such as Women On The Verge Of HRT and Girls’ Night. However, examine the genre a little more closely and you’ll find that productions such as The Naked Truth, Mum’s The Word, Menopause: The Musical, Hot Flush! and, of course, Calendar Girls can manage to attract a predominantly female audience without alienating the men in the audience. Undoubtedly, Dirty Dating.Com belongs in the latter category, rather than the former.

Aside from Fleming’s writing, which demonstrates a flair for keen observation of the human condition and some wickedly witty one-liners, perhaps the success of this show owes much to its talented cast. The occasional monologues, which reveal more about the backgrounds of each of the women, are the perfect illustration of skilful writing and polished performances combined.

Okay so, at first, the characters seem a little stereotypical in their construction: there’s the larger-than-life, promiscuous barmaid; the cynical and studious mature student; the bottle-blonde bimbo, and the downtrodden housewife who has escaped a life of domestic abuse. Yet, scratch the surface and you see before you women who could just as easily be your best friend, your sister, your mother or your daughter.

Nicki French (who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest) is a revelation in the role of Sarah. Displaying a genuine warmth and believability, she performs the part with an understated air of poignancy and quiet dignity. Her character contrasts beautifully with the bravado of big and bubbly barmaid, Vicky, played with unabashed gusto by Grace Bishop.

Similarly the characters of Tracy, the mature student who has given up on finding luck in love and Jackie, the eternal optimist who has almost allowed the man of her dreams to slip through her perfectly manicured fingers, offset each other brilliantly. Jo Mousley and Jess Schofield demonstrate great skill in their respective roles.

The men in the cast more than hold their own with Phil Hearne’s Henry, the homosexual publican, playing an integral part in the piece. It isn’t until fairly well into the story that Alan Stocks really gets the opportunity to shine as lonely but loveable Brian but when he does the stage belongs to him. And former Joseph Craig Chalmers really earns his star billing by performing as seven radically different characters, which is testament to his abilities as an actor.

Gregor Donnelly’s set, which is constant and for the most part depicts Henry’s Wine Bar, is basic but functional and costumes successfully reflect the styles and incomes of the characters. Sound and lighting also help convey the onstage action and changes of mood, though cues could be tightened in parts.

The programme notes reveal that ‘this 2012 mini tour is trialling the show and, indeed, the company’. Therefore, the reaction from the audience (which was disappointingly small, in my opinion) should assist in convincing Pauline Fleming that she has a future, not only, as an actress, but also, as a writer and producer.

Lucy Hammond.

Tour Dates:

4 - 8    September    Stockport Plaza       

12-14 September    Epstein Theatre, Liverpool (Old Neptune)

18-21  September    Lancaster Grand

28-29 September     Shrewsbury Theatre Severn

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