There are few productions currently on in the West End that centre around women. Made in Dagenham is the only show that pops into my mind. There are also no productions currently on that have the music and sounds of the Mediterranean. The last production I can think of that did this so famously was Evita. Or perhaps that unforgettably dire rendition of ‘Spice Up Your Life’ in Viva Forever, featuring giant mariachi musician puppets and second-class flamenco dancers. It still haunts me.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, however, embraces these two elements successfully, making it a unique and exciting addition to the West End. Based on the 1988 Academy Award-nominated film, Tamsin Grieg makes her musical theatre debut as Pepa Marcos, part of a group of women whose relationships with men lead to betrayal, love and crime. Having previously been on Broadway in 2010, Bartlett Sher has reduced the spectacle of the original production, in order to focus on its storyline and the various complications of affairs.
Tamsin Grieg delivers a terrifically emotional performance. Vocally, it isn’t spectacular compared to your typical theatre-school trained performer, with vibrato and riffing. However, Grieg is certainly gutsy and packs a punch at each note with her vocal delivery, leaving nothing on the stage. Previously in interviews, she has spoken of how she is treating Women on the Verge as ‘a play with music’, not a ‘musical’. Her dry humour previously in her roles in ‘Episodes’ and ‘Friday Night Dinner’ is brought into her performance marvellously, making her a hot tip for Best Actress in a Musical at this year’s Olivier Awards.
Other performances which should be mentioned are from Ricardo Alfonso and Rebecca McKinnis. Alfonso’s vocal is incredibly gritty, with a tone that could easily be compared with the likes of Paolo Nutini. His Spanish flair is brought to life in his role as the Cab Driver/Narrator of the show. His character might be slightly two-dimensional and lacking in depth, but he makes himself memorable with his opening number, ‘Madrid’. Rebecca McKinnis, however, is certainly memorable despite only featuring in two scenes. She is incredibly funny as the production assistant for Grieg, it is a great shame that her role couldn’t have been developed in the show.
Women on the Verge’s main flaw, however, is the visuals. It is obvious that the show sets itself to be ‘a play with music’, rather than a ‘musical’. However, in a space like the Playhouse Theatre, more could have been done to develop the set and lighting. Visually, it looks too clinical and clean. Whilst I’m sure this is designed to guide the narrative and Grieg’s lost character, it still feels unfinished. From a lighting perspective, the projections somewhat remind me of my secondary school productions (like they were designed in a day). Work is needed visually, in order to make it look more finite. But thanks to Grieg’s performance and its uniquely Mediterranean sounding score, Women on the Verge could be on the verge of a successful musical.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is playing at the Playhouse Theatre until 9 May 2015. Click here for tickets.
Reviewed by Jack Grey