The critically acclaimed and possibly controversial in the West End sector, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was a production I was very excited to see. Announced recently with an early closure, this news worried me in the contrast to the good comments I had heard about the production and so there was a slight anticipation to what I was about to embark on.
Women on the Verge is based on a Spanish film (Spanish: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios) written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The musical is still based in Spain but with a range of English dialects, we see the story of several women and their lives due to the impact of significant men; 3 women sharing a cheating middle-aged man and two younger women over the dream man. While this sounds an extremely feminist and almost man-bashing in its’ narrative, this comical musical professes much for both genders and orientations, hitting on some stereotypes in a funny way.
Returning to my earlier comment of being slightly controversial on the West End, Women on the Verge dared to bring a new and unconventional musical to the difficult and notorious scene where Musicals consist rarely of productions that are not well-known and usually of whose music everyone already knows, ready to sing along to. As someone who is not hugely into musicals, but is finding slight entertainment in them recently due to the West End, this satirical and broad attempt at a West End musical was right up my street – the music catchy, with a Spanish twist which complimented my love of European and Mediterranean culture and dared to bring out a bit of atmosphere in such a small theatre.
The set itself was something new – minimal in content but very realistic, the scenes were interchangeable and cleverly done so – performers on stage handing each other items during the change, with the main actress (Tamsin Greig) at times looking confused, as if this World was some dream state for her in a split second. This was one of the many comical ‘leitmotifs’ that added substance to the performance. The use of neon and bright colours from the staging to the lights to items of costumes was simple yet very effective, giving a sense of Spain’s change at the time in the 80’s, still with influences of the 70’s and 60’s.
My main excitement was of the main actress, Greig. As a huge fan of this comedy goddess from Black Books, Green Wing and more recently Friday Night Dinner, I was eager to see how she transformed on the stage. And boy, was I not disappointed. Professing a beautiful and strong voice, it was unexpected and awe-inspiring to hear from someone who I have personally put down for just TV scripted humour. Yet she also did not disappoint on the latter. Her comedy aura was huge on stage and her sheer talent to bring the big yet the small little changes in voice, expression or even these in the background gave a sense of naturalism and genuine acting skills.
With such talent, it could be seen as difficult to stand to this on stage, but all the fellow performers managed to do so. Easily, they seemed to have escalated their manic character’s to compete with Greig’s and therefore, there seemed a bond and synchronicity on stage. For such a quick paced and hilarious performance, it is great to see how close and trusting they are as a company to help things run so smoothly.
Ending the show, Greig brought herself out of the character to speak to us, encouraging us to come again and invite others due to the closure. Her humbleness and honesty, as well as some personal humour in congratulating the men of the audience to undertake such a show and to all of us as a collective for embarking on something a little different to the usual West End, was warming and gave us more of a personal feeling to the performance than we already had, after easily relating to the content.
Men or Women, this show caters for all, whether it is the relatable narrative, the comical scenes or the unusual take on a musical, this is a show that would be a shame to miss. So much so, I am considering seeing it just one more time, just as a treat!