United Kingdom Some Girl I Used To Know: A new musical play by Terry Ronald and Denise Van Outen, Palace Theatre, Westcliff, Essex. 13.3.2014. (JPr)
Denise Van Outen: Performer
Michael Howcroft: Director
Garth Hill: Musical Director
Steve Anderson: Musical Supervisor and Arrangements
Morgan Large: Production Design
Joshua Carr: Lighting Design
David Gregory: Sound Design
Matthew Cole: Movement Director
A little over a month after a dispiriting visit to see – the famous Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – Tell Me on a Sunday (review here https://seenandheard-international.com/2014/02/marti-webb-returns-londons-west-songs-letters-home/ ) came this opportunity to see a 2014 ‘take’ on much the same story of a woman reflecting on her life and the men she has been involved with. However as the ‘Welcome’ to Some Girl I Used To Know in the programme suggests Stephanie Canworth – the ‘heroine’ of this one-woman musical – is ‘a 21st-century woman who has it all. Or does she? Although there are many more opportunities for women in 2014 than there were in the 1980s, their tribulations and heartbreaks are often much the same … What happens when a woman who has everything except happiness looks back to a time when life was simple and unspoiled? When love mattered more than money, where anything was possible?’ Tell Me on a Sunday was all letters and phone calls home – at least in its original version as recently revived – but in 2014 few people talk to each other unless it is face-to-face and all current ‘social intercourse’ (and not always only ‘social’) often revolves around Facebook, texting or Twitter.
Stephanie is about 40 and after a successful launch of her new lingerie range is waiting for time to pass in an upmarket London hotel room before meeting a reporter for an important interview. (Actually the room looked like a Premier Inn – one with some strange late-20th century artefacts hanging from the ceiling!) She bemoans how the ‘walls are like Kleenex’ as the sounds of an amorous couple in the next room is clearly heard and all she has for company is her mobile phone, her laptop and a well-stocked minibar. Her husband, Paul, has funded her company and is keen for her to have baby but for Stephanie the timing is not right – and anyway she is unlikely to conceive when all he seemingly now asks of her is to pass the Sky remote! She is happy with her charity donations and as she says, ‘Sell a few knickers, save a few kids!’ Anyway her company needs her full attention as people are always trying to ‘rip off’ her underwear. (It is her designs that she is referring to but it was a witty double–entendre!)
Stephanie receives a Facebook message from Sean who was her first love and then evolved into a pill-popping ‘love rat’ who broke her heart about 20 years before. It makes her reflect on her coming of age in Essex and should-she, shouldn’t-she rekindle this past relationship? It is a very simple dilemma that did hold my attention during Stephanie’s monologue: it was actually twice as long as Tell Me on a Sunday which at only 45 minutes overstayed its welcome.
It is a shame there was only one original song, the show’s plaintive anthem, ‘Some Girl I Used To Know’ but the few others sung are described as ‘an evocative mixtape’ of a few classic tracks (by the Thompson Twins, Sonia, Culture Club, Billy Ray Martin and Soft Cell) from the 1980s and 1990s that the music arranger, Steve Anderson, has effectively reimagined as bitter-sweet torch songs.
For anyone who as every seen ‘Birds of a Feather’ on TV they would recognise much of the humour in Terry Roland and Denise Van Outen’s script although it is even more ‘earthy’ at times. I wondered how well this travelled to the rest of the country on the tour as it would only be appreciated fully in the county of Essex. Denise Van Outen was born in Basildon, Essex and ‘Stephanie’ was born in Chelmsford, Essex; and this was a homecoming in very many ways. It does suggest there might be something semi-autobiographical in this evening for Van Outen but there seems very little in Stephanie’s background that referred to her apart from that she was single-minded and needed someone to want her for who she is.
Much is always made of Denise Van Outen being a former Big Breakfast and Capital Radio presenter and Strictly Come Dancing runner-up but she is a very convincing actress and a fine singer – although her singing voice is too refined and did not match her speaking voice. She is a very natural stage presence who brought Stephanie to life and believably voiced the trials – and those ‘tribulations and heartbreaks’ – she has had to endure to become a successful businesswoman. Vocally, the highlight was an extremely poignant rendition of ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ and dramatically, Van Outen was at her emotional best when recounting the child she miscarried after being hit by a TukTuk.
To conclude, Some Girl I Used To Know was a very good, girlie – Essex – night out for the Westcliff audience (90% who were female) and who (my wife included) really enjoyed Denise Van Outen’s performance in this interesting new jukebox musical play, efficiently directed by Michael Howcroft. Clearly there was a lot of empathy from the audience for Stephanie (and Denise’s?) story as few are immune from the ups and downs of love, and although the ending left us wanting to know what would become of Stephanie, I suspect – that like the actress who portrayed her so well – she is a survivor!
For more about this show go to http://somegirliusedtoknow.com/.