By Jenny Éclair and Judith Holder
Garry Van Egmond Enterprises with Avalon Promotions and newtheatricals, in association with Liberty Bell
If it’s not just your bowel that’s irritable, and if market researchers on the street approach everyone except you, then it’s clear that you’re a Grumpy Old Woman, and on Friday night there were at least 1500 of them (oh, all right, us) in the Lyric Theatre, because this packed-out show proves that the Awful Truth is much less awful, and much funnier, if it’s shared.
The television shows about the Grumpies (Old Men, Old Women, and Holidays) were compulsive viewing among the middle-aged because they brought into the open the little things about growing older that most of us like to keep secret because we think they’re unique to us. Like the tweezers we keep in the bathroom, for example, to pluck out the surreptitious chin hairs every morning, or the fact that staying home on Saturday night in your jammies watching telly is infinitely preferable to going to a party where you have to stand up all night and everyone ignore you. And I thought it was just me!
BR> The television shows probably outlived their initial impact, and their format, a series of shots of a variety of well- and lesser-known GOBs (as Grumpy Old Bastards are known in our household) mouthing off about little things that annoyed them, would probably have been better as a four-part series, because the concept soon wore thin.
But, as the man from Mortein used to say, while you’re on a good thing, stick to it, so that three of the Grumpy Old Women are spinning the idea out as long as they can, and are touring Australia to make glad the hearts of GOW and some GOM, who were there at the Lyric in the proportion of roughly 1-50.
And make glad our hearts they did, with everyone from young veiled Muslim women (would I lie to you?) to Bright Young Things helpless with laughter as they recognised attitudes that they, or their mothers and grandmothers, could relate to. A preference for elasticised waistbands, for example, or comfy shoes and really posh loo paper; things in our handbags like indigestion tablets and a cheque book, because we’re/they’re still using one; matinee tickets for the theatre because we/they don’t like to be out past bedtime – add your own ideas to the list, because they’re all there, and the laughter that rocked the theatre was the laughter of solidarity.
Three actors is a handy, and relatively economical number to do a touring show, and the set was of the simplest, but these troupers are our long-term friends, especially Linda Robson from Birds of a Feather – and it’s a real giveaway if you remember laughing through the first series of that television show. Dillie Keane and Jenny Éclair are better-known in England, but we recognise them from the BBC GOW shows, and they are outstandingly different in shape, stature and personality to keep the pace going in what is basically a very static format of witty one-liners.
Words like saggy, tut-tut, gusset, bifocals, hot flushes and arthritis pepper the dialogue, and the middle-aged comments about the loss of libido and incontinence problems drew the loudest laughs, but one thing that troubled me a little was that these women were definitely not old. Indeed, by the standards of many women in the audience they weren’t even middle-aged, and if sixty is the new forty, as I defiantly tell my children, then they’re selling out to out-dated attitudes to women. Forty-nine old! Give me a break – that’s the first flush of youth, and if they’re having libido problems at that young age, there’ll be no hope for them when they’re really old, like seventy-nine.
Still, the concept is a very healthy one, because it brings into the open all kinds of things that have hitherto been taboo, and that aging women have always been ashamed to mention except to their closest friends. The key-in-the-door syndrome, for example (and middle-aged women will know what I mean) is never mentioned in polite society, but just as Menopause the Musical and more seriously, The Vagina Monologues liberated women to talk about things that are of deep significance but have had to be hidden away, so on a lighter note Grumpy Old Women allows us to laugh at ourselves in solidarity rather than being laughed at in scorn.
And if at two-plus hours the show was about 30 minutes too long, and we got the feeling that the writers were stretching the idea past its relevance threshold, it didn’t really matter, because it starts at 7.30pm, thus giving most people time to get home by the GOW witching hour of 10 o’clock – or would have, weren’t Milton Road closed to traffic for the convenience of the football crowds, so that a normal 10 minute journey took us almost an hour – and that’s something to get really grumpy about.
Director Chris George
Designer Dora Schweitzer
Played 1 – 5 May 2007 Duration : 2 hours, including one 20-minute interval