To summarise: Ladies’ Day is a comedy drama about a gang of fish factory workers from Hull on a day at the races. It wasn’t any old race event, rather it was a specific day – the day Royal Ascot came to York Races in 2005.
But Ladies’ Day, which has been reprised this week at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre, is so much more than this briefest summary. There are the stories of shattered relationships, unrequited love, disastrous love affairs, all tempered with Northern humour. Brittle one-liners from the sharp tongue of Shelley, played pitch perfectly by Amy Walsh, all fake tan and skin tight dress, and she constantly hitches it down self-consciously – in character, of course.
She’s obsessed by everything celebrity and is convinced she can be part of the act to escape her humdrum existence in the fish factory. In a sense, the three other main characters have their issues and are all trapped by circumstance in one way or another. Jan is a single parent who lives her life through her daughter and Pearl has a surprising secret. Jan also has a secret and Linda has a mother who treats her appallingly.
But I don’t want to give too much away.
Suffice to say that the dramas are dealt with convincingly and feel authentic. The characters seem real. I was reminded of Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, a series which I used to quite enjoy. These are the strong women of Corrie of old; the Elsie Tanners and Ena Sharples. Yet there’s a modern twist and lovely contemporary references to the Beckhams and Jordan.
The new production sees two of the original cast reprising the roles they created – Annie Sawle as Pearl and Sue McCormick as Jan. They are both brilliant with the winning combination of pathos and humour that makes the play such a success. Laura Aramayo is equally excellent as Linda.
Tom Bevan deserves an honourable mention as he plays all six male roles from a jockey to a lecherous racing commentator, an older love interest and a drunken race goer to name but four. He’s also a bookmaker and a ticket tout, if you were wondering. The timing of the slow motion scene when all four lead characters were watching a crucial horse race was a masterclass for any budding actors. It was incredibly effective and had a powerful effect on the audience.
In the last eight years, Ladies’ Day has been an enduring success on the professional and amateur circuits worldwide and has been translated into other languages. Director Gareth Tudor-Price summarises the appeal neatly when he says: “The key to its success is that audiences relate to these ‘real’ characters, to their lives and to their unfolding stories. The play has tremendous warmth, humour and yet can move you to tears.”
Well, I wasn’t quite moved to tears, but it did evoke a mixture of emotions both happy and sad. Ultimately it was the distinctly Northern humour and nuances that I really enjoyed. The actors were brilliant with their swift changes and smooth set changes. The set moved from Hull fish factory to Royal Ascot at York Races in a cleverly coordinated sequence. The actors literally tore off their white costs and blue hair nets and gloves and were dressed for the races.
Tudor-Price said he and writer Amanda Whittington spent a day at York races and straight away knew the spectacle and excitement of the whole occasion; the sights, colours and characters on show lent itself perfectly to ‘theatre.’ He witnessed the race-goers walking through the city well dressed, sober and elegant at 10am and “rather bedraggled and worse for wear come evening.” However, the drunken race goers are never patronised or mocked, they are portrayed in a quite gentle way.
Ladies’ Day was one of Whittington’s most successful plays and was first performed at Hull Truck in 2005, which led to a sequel, Ladies Down Under in 2007.
If you get chance, go and see it.
Review by Helen Carter
What: Ladies’ Day
Where: Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Oldham
When: until May 25, 2013
More info: www.coliseum.org.uk, Box office 0161 624 2829