51 SHADES OF MAGGIE
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 1st October, 2013
Oh no, you might think: a blatant cash-in based on the unexpected runaway success of that book. And indeed that’s what I did think when I heard about this touring production. Based on her own book, which grew from a Facebook update, Leesa Harker has adapted her Belfast-based script for a UK audience.
Adele Silva (Kelly Windsor off of Emmerdale) is Maggie Muff – yes, that’s the protagonist’s name, setting the tone and a low bar from the off – in this one-woman show that turns out to be very funny and provocative (in a different sense). Silva is a revelation as narrator Maggie, slipping in and out of other characters that populate her story, while rotating the giant bed of a set to indicate changes of scene. It is an energetic, detailed and captivating performance of a lively story of relentless incident.
Harker’s script would be at home on any page of Viz magazine with its talk of ‘hatchet wounds’ and ‘spunky clunges’. Jane Austen it ain’t, but what it does have in common with Austen’s classic works is its feisty (I hesitate to say spunky again) heroine. Maggie Muff in her pink shorts and leopard-skin leggings is no shrinking violet. Hard-drinking, hard-smoking, dole-fiddling Maggie shags her way around Hackney but has her eyes (and other things) opened to an alternative lifestyle when she hooks up with her version of Christian Gray, “Mr Big”. He introduces her to life as a ‘submissive’ and it’s all new to Maggie. There’s fun to be had with whips and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s – up to a point. Maggie comes to realise that she wants more from a relationship than Mr Big is prepared to offer, and when sex games cross the line into violence and abuse, she comes to her senses, stands up to the weirdo and gets her happy ending (in a non-massage parlour sense – although, a saveloy is involved…)
It’s a raunchy, raucous night out, not for the prudish or those whose bums clench at the sound of strong language, and it’s a tour de force from Adele Silva. I was so glad I overcame my prejudices about the source material. Harker’s play makes an important point. It is a morality play at heart, for those people who got caught up by Christian Gray and to those who play the submissive in all walks of life. She may be low-rent but Maggie Muff reminds us to stand up for ourselves and to gather our rosebuds while we may.