REVIEW: Saddle up for winning play with superb cast at Rugby Theatre

“This was all about the fantastic four and the casting was superb”
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Ladies’ Day, Rugby Theatre, until September 23

No pressure – but my father-in-law is from Hull, his three brothers still live there or thereabouts, so if you’re taking on a play with that city at its heart, I’ll be judging you against 40+ years of experience of exposure to the city’s culture.

That was where my head was for opening night, as the Henry Street stage switched back to a lesser-known play after a couple of slices of high-profile musicals (with another on the way next month).

Scene from Ladies' Day. Picture: Martin Pulley.Scene from Ladies' Day. Picture: Martin Pulley.
Scene from Ladies' Day. Picture: Martin Pulley.

The willingness to give space in the calendar to Amanda Whittington’s script that goes beyond the threat of stereotype to create an endearing comedy with depth, remains a strength of the Rugby Theatre set-up.

Yes, musicals with big casts will tend to get bigger audiences than we saw on Saturday - but Rugby is richer for having a theatre that will mix it up and not just opt for the obvious.

On the surface, the prospect of four women from a fish factory in Hull gatecrashing Ladies’ Day in 2005 and drinking excessively in most cases - when the glamorous occasion was staged at York rather than Ascot – carried a considerable risk of being patronising.

But the twist we got as the play developed was to see the quite different stories of the four emerge and be remarkably engaging.

Winning cast. Picture: Martin Pulley.Winning cast. Picture: Martin Pulley.
Winning cast. Picture: Martin Pulley.

These become so much clearer after the interval. After a long time with a static racecourse set, we dived straight in to one of the most touching scenes, in front of the curtains, as Linda - played with a delightful quirkiness by Siobhan Healey - stumbles across one of the jockeys, played by an utterly convincing Jonathan Pollard.

And while we generally returned to the racecourse set, the second half was much brighter as we found out more of the individual stories of our key characters.

While the three men of the cast each took on two roles and deserve due praise for that, they werevery much the supporting roles.

This was all about the fantastic four and the casting was superb.

It took me a while to realise the bold and brash Shelley was really being played by the same person who had created such an impression as Ruth Ellis a few months ago in The Thrill of Love – I now wonder what Emma Marshall will do next. I just hope it’s here at Rugby Theatre.

Nicky Main as Jan and Lilian McGrath as Pearl both reveal so much more of their stories in that powerful second half – notably the latter as we discovered just why she was so determined to go to the races. And that’s as much of the plot I’m prepared to share…

So hats – or fascinators – off to first-time director Bev Avis-Dakin for creating the environment for her talented cast to shine.

As the run proceeds, the pace will pick up in that first half - but the second is already in fine order and when the big win is revealed at the end, you won’t be able to resist joining in the celebrations.

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