SOME GIRL I USED TO KNOW
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Friday 21st February, 2014
In her swanky hotel room, successful lingerie tycoon, Stephanie Canworth is taking time out before an interview. She receives a message from an old flame – despite her better judgment, she replies and before long, the flame is rekindled and on his way over. While she waits, Stephanie reminisces about their old relationship, her first true love…
Denise Van Outen is Stephanie in this one-woman show, which she co-wrote with Terry Ronald. She looks great and sounds fantastic as she intersperses the comic monologues with songs from the 80s, re-arranged as power ballads. We get to revisit classics like Hold Me Now, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and the unfortunately titled You Came. It’s an approach that works quite well for the most part, although at the start I found some of the Julie Andrews enunciation in the singing at odds with the coarser Walford accent of Stephanie’s speaking voice, and I began to long for a different style of song to mix things up a bit.
It’s a hybrid version of Shirley Valentine and Tell Me On A Sunday, with some of the vulgarity of 51 Shades of Maggie thrown in. The first half is a chance for Van Outen to display her skills with a comic monologue and her ability to belt out a pop song with feeling and impressive vocal technique. But by the interval, I was hoping for a change in tone; I wasn’t enamoured with the character, however well performed. I wasn’t sure why Stephanie’s story was being told.
The second half cranks up the dramatic content. Stephanie’s personal tragedy, hardly uncommon, is revealed, and Van Outen goes from very good to excellent, especially in a scene in which she relives her humiliation in a nightclub, at the hands of the old boyfriend whose arrival is imminent. The power ballads keep coming. Surprisingly, the most effective of the night is a rendition of scouse poppet Sonia’s You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You.
In the end, Stephanie blows off (blows out?) the old flame and, in a moment of personal growth and realisation, phones her lacklustre husband. Her trip down memory lane has brought her to a tipping point and a moment of self-empowerment.
There are some very funny lines and the script is heavy with nostalgic pop culture references that lend it the bathos of a Victoria Wood or an Alan Bennett. With a bit of tweaking in the first half, namely a bit more variety on the musical menu, the drama of the second half would be more effective by contrast and the material would then rise to match Van Outen’s powerhouse performance.