Friday, April 20, 2007
Hot In Here?
If you live in London, you may have seen the posters on the tube. Four podgy cartoon women doing high-kicks beneath the strapline Menopause The Musical. You may have seen them, chuckled a little and/or sneered, and filed them away in the back of your brain as something you will never, ever be going to see ever – which is pretty much what I did too.
But then I found myself thinking that I am a woman and the menopause is something that will one day happen to me, and it isn’t something to be scared of or ignored. In fact maybe it is worth singing about, why not?
I mentioned I was going to my mother, because being, you know, a woman whose 50th birthday was well behind her, I thought she might be interested and want to come with me. However she looked slightly alarmed at the prospect and declared rather too quickly that she already had plans for that night. Even though I know for a fact these plans involved uncorking a bottle of Merlot and watching House, I thought it was telling that she preferred this to watching a musical about hot flushes. Would actual menopausal women want to watch such a thing?
The answer is yes, oh yes, they would. I haven’t seen such predominantly female crowd since I went to see Dirty Dancing. There were only about three men in the auditorium and I wondered what they had done wrong recently to warrant being dragged along to this.
The show has been a huge global success, and since 2001 it has played in cities all across America and Australia; now it has arrived in London, to the Shaw Theatre, which has to be one of the most charmless venues in London, tucked away in the Novotel near Euston Station – an utterly anonymous space. This did not bode well. The set was cheap-looking and covered with Marks and Spencers logos in the most overt display of corporate sponsorship in the theatre that I’ve ever come across.
The show itself consisted of four intentionally stereotypical women, a housewife, a business women, an aging actress and a Per Una wearing hippy type, singing familiar songs from the 1950s and 60s that had been slightly reworked to include references to night sweats and elasticated-waist trousers. And that was pretty much it. For two bloody hours. And yet the majority of the audience loved it, they lapped it up, to the point where their enthusiasm became a little infectious.
But after a while I found myself becoming quite dispirited with the whole thing. This was the laughter of recognition, not anything more. The message was that, yes, women have hot flushes and it can be embarrassing but it can also be quite funny, however there were no ideas to engage with beyond that. It was patronising and simplistic, pretty damn dismal in fact. The emotional impact of the menopause, of seeing society’s view of you as a woman shift as you got older, was not really touched upon at all and any tricky issue, like HRT or loss of libido were also brushed aside. Instead the production veered dramatically in the other direction with a penultimate number which involved Su Pollard singing a song that was in essence an ode to wanking herself off (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type).
I felt disappointed both for, and a little bit in, the other women in the audience, yet in the main they seemed to be loving it, with a large number dashing on stage to join in with the final dance number. I left the theatre feeling more than a little confused, distinctly unclean and oddly desirous of an M&S sandwich.