Tag Archives: Jackie Clune

Personnel Problems

9 to 5

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 19th December, 2012

 

Colin Higgins’s 1980 film is the latest to be adapted to the stage as a musical in this Dolly Parton-led venture, currently doing the rounds.  I’m not against film adaptations as such – Sister Act, I think, actually improved on the original incarnation – but others like Legally Blonde for example did nothing for me.

The show wisely keeps the setting.  There is a front cloth covered with faces from the era.  I had fun naming them before the curtain went up: Rocky, Burt Reynolds, Donna Summer, Barbra with a perm, the Ayatollah Khomeini…  It all helps to set the tone.  The score has a late 70s vibe to it and the wigs and costumes are all perfectly in keeping.

And yet…

It begins with a video of Dolly Parton, projected onto a giant clock face.  She reminds us to turn our phones off before watching over the opening number (the famous theme song) like a pneumatic goddess.  She reappears at intervals to deliver a patronising kind of narration we don’t really need.

The chorus make a song and dance about working in an office.  They pirouette around, clutching memos.  It’s hardly Jean Valjean on the chain gang.   The three main characters are singled out.  We have Jackie Clune in the Lily Tomlin role as Violet, a bossy widow, frustrated by being overlooked for promotion yet again.  There is Amy Lennox in Dolly’s part as Doralee, the boss’s secretary and subject of office gossip; and best of the crop, Natalie Casey as newly divorced and new to work, Judy, the role played on screen by Jane Fonda.  The women each get their solo numbers to give them emotional depth.  The songs are serviceable but there is nothing of the calibre of the theme song or Parton’s other classics like Jolene and I Will Always Love You.  I can’t see any of the numbers working outside the context of the piece.

When the plot gets going, the screwball comedy aspects of the film come to the fore.  The women fantasise about getting their revenge on the boss and then events transpire to make their dreams come true.  What should be madcap and farcical is continually interrupted as they break off to perform another song.  When they should be cranking up the comic tension, they’re swanning around with the chorus.

The boss, Ben Richards, is a pre-David Brent monster, a sexist womaniser and a crook.  Richards has a touch of the Tom Jones in his vocal stylings and makes an affable villain.  He wouldn’t get away with it, one hopes, in this day and age.

The women, like the Witches of Eastwick, bring about a paradigm shift in the office.  They instigate job sharing, childcare and even rehab for the office drunk, but they have to go through kidnapping and attempted murder rather than working to rule or striking to gain the working conditions we take for granted today.  The show at least points out how far we have come, although some of the lines about inequality of pay for men and women doing the same job still ring true.

I came away amused and impressed by the quality of the performances.  Natalie Casey is particularly good but I couldn’t help feeling it would have been better as a play.  Unfortunately, if you ditched the musical numbers, you would be denied the absolute treat of seeing Bonnie Langford as frustrated frump Roz, letting her hair down and stripping to her underwear in a raunchy show-stopping routine that involves her doing the splits upside down on a sofa.  Langford is an old school all-rounder who can belt out a song and moves like a dream.  She exudes razzmatazz – there must be a show out there that can capitalise on her considerable talents.

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PC World

MOGADISHU
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 21st February, 2012

This timely and topical play is set in an inner city comprehensive school. A black youth is prevented from marmalising a Turkish boy by a white teacher and so he levels a false accusation of racist abuse against her. The full weight of “procedure” is brought down upon her, impacting on her home life, her career, her relationships, everything. It is a nightmarish scenario. The youth is able to abuse the power afforded to him by political correctness; the situation escalates until he too is trapped. The youth’s version is backed up by his friends and cronies – some of them reluctant to support at first but then it’s peer pressure innit? They are no less trapped than the teacher.

Vivienne Franzmann’s script has authenticity written through it. The patois and lingo of the playground is captured to dramatic and also humorous effect. The group of kids is recognisable from schoolyards up and down the country – they are at turns likeable and bright but also bitter and disillusioned. The pack mentality depicted here gives the piece an almost wildlife documentary aspect! The lads strut, preen and posture, facing each other down. The girls are won over by a quick schmooze. It is orchestrated by Jason (Ryan Calais Cameron in a totally credible performance) the cock of the walk, bad boy. His home life is no bed of roses – the teacher allows him too much leeway because of what she knows of his background and he is therefore able to exploit the system to bring about her downfall.

As Amanda the teacher Jackie Clune portrays the idealistic do-gooding side of the profession, the eternal apologist and optimist. Her naivete is astonishing – perhaps her character missed the inset day on child protection procedures! As the net tightens around her, she eventually finds her idealism dented and ultimately destroyed. By the end she is no longer the woman she was at the start. Her cold shoulder when one of the kids (the excellent Savannah Gordon-Liburd) makes a plaintive apology demonstrates how much the experience has forced her to change.

The kids’ loss of their teacher is also the profession’s loss. The play shows how procedure and endless agencies that do little more than tick their own boxes, have ousted common sense from the process of child protection. Parents know their rights but take none of their responsibilities. The system is skewed against the teacher. Child protection is crucial, of course it is, but the play states in no uncertain terms that the way it is currently dealt with is of no help to anyone. Worse than that, it is damaging.

Tom Schutt’s set is a wire fence around a circular space. It is the playground but also a battleground, an arena in which the conflict is played out. Characters are caged animals, restricted by rules written and unwritten. Suicide or resigning from the whole process are shown to be the only ways out.

The cast is superb. I particularly enjoyed Tendayi Jembere as Chuggs and Hammad Animashaun as Jordon, providing comic relief. Ryan Calais Cameron is a simmering time bomb of pent-up aggression, frustration and also vulnerability. We are horrified by what his character sets in motion but he is no two-dimensional villain. We want the play to offer another way out for him.

Directed by Matthew Dunster, this is a lively, thought-provoking couple of hours and very much a play-for-today. I feel the issues presented will long outlive the street slang.