Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th July, 2018
Following an excellent Brassed Off last summer, the Grand has produced its second in-house show, Amanda Whittington’s comedy about four women from a fish-packing factory who have a day at the races to celebrate the retirement of one of their group. As a Vegan, I have issues with the setting, of course, but they’re not real fish and there is neither hide nor hair of a horse, so I put my sensibilities aside. The job and the destination are immaterial; they are devices to get characters together – at heart, this is a play about the race that matters: the human race.
Emmerdale’s Deena Payne is a safe pair of hands as Pearl, the retiree, strong and sensible – yet she has a secret, and it’s the nature of plays of this kind that secrets will come to light. Payne’s Wolverhampton accent is decent and her comic timing impeccable. Hollyoaks’s Emma Rigby is glamorous good-time girl Shelly, taken in by a sleazy TV presenter – Rigby definitely looks the part, and gives us the fragility behind Shelly’s public façade. Roisin O’Neill is sweet as the young and innocent Linda – it is Linda’s obsession with Tony Christie that provides the soundtrack for the show and, in a coup, this is the first production of the play that features the man himself, live on stage. But stealing our hearts and almost the entire show is Cheryl Fergison (formerly ‘Hevver’ off of EastEnders) giving a comedic tour de force as Jan. Fergison is hilarious throughout and her drunken scene is particularly well-observed.
Playing the male roles is Sean McKenzie. Slick and slimy as the TV presenter, he acknowledges it’s a bit of a stretch when he later appears as an eight-and-a-half stone jockey – but we willingly suspend our disbelief, as the jockey and Linda bond in one of Whittington’s best-written scenes.
The script is largely very funny, but it is somewhat patchy. It is the energy and likeability of the quartet of women that keep us engaged. There are moments that touch on the flip side of horse-racing: we are reminded that horses are shot if they break a leg; Sean McKenzie appears as a gambling addict, his life in tatters…
A lot of fun, a feel-good piece with plenty of laughs and a heart-warming denouement, Ladies’ Day is definitely worth an evening of your time and is a production with a strong local flavour and is a show of which the Grand can be justifiably proud.