Review - Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

As a sort of present to myself for getting through my second term at uni without becoming having a nervous breakdown myself, I grabbed a cheap seat to see the West End adaption of Pedro Almodovar's Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown last weekend while I was waiting for my train home (thankfully, The Playhouse Theatre had a bigish cloakroom, my suitcase was bulging!). Unfortunately, although there were some enjoyable elements, for the most part, I left the theatre two and a half hours later almost wishing I had gone straight home!
The plot basically follows a woman named Peppa (Tamsin Greig), whose lover Ivan leaves her without explanation one morning. Peppa spends almost the entire musical running around sheepishly, looking for Ivan and not doing much else. In the midst of this Peppa's best friend, a hapless model named Candela (Anna Skellern) accidentally begins a relationship with a terrorist, and rushes to Peppa for advice. Running parallel to the Peppa storyline (and subsequently crossing over into it) is the story of Ivan's unstable and unpredictable wife Lucia (Haydn Gwynne), who is filing for divorce after many years of separation.  If that doesn't seem like enough plot for one musical, there are several other character, each with stories of their own. The shifty feminist lawyer (Willemijn Verkaik, a fiery saving grace in this rather slow burning show), The taxi driver who partially narrates the story, and Lucia's son Carlos (Haydn Oakley) and his fiance (Seline Hizli) also feature.

The first song sets us up in 1980s Madrid, but as soon as the song ends we're transported to a stark white set without much charm, and introduced one by one to a myriad of characters who almost all speak in RP accents. There is almost no indication of location for the rest of the musical. Setting Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown in Madrid felt like almost a last minute addition for the sake of it, much like quite a bit of the production actually.

In terms of the music, I found the songs of Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown to be rather forgettable. The only song I could hum from the show now would be the opening number, Madrid, and the only reason for that is because I'd heard the song before in one of the promotional videos released for the show, The rest of the songs all merge in to a sea of talk-singing, yelling and slurring. As far as I'm concerned, there doesn't appear to be a standout song at all.

I was also surprisingly disappointed by the cast. I'd been a long time fan of Tamsin Greig, and still do consider myself a fan, but I wasn't convinced by her performance as Peppa. She spent the majority of her time on stage stumbling around like a drunken Bambi on ice, stammering and laughing nervously. This routine became tiring very quickly. Haydn Gwynne was also exhausting to watch as Lucia, as she appeared to do nothing but shout for the whole show. A woman on the verge she may have been, but an undeveloped one for sure. Jerome Prandon also seemed odd as Ivan. As the character at the heart of so much drama, you'd expect him to have some likable features, but unfortunately when he finally appeared in all his  glory he did nothing but sidle around stage like a panto villain and spout cliches. Negativity aside there were some impressive performances given by a couple of cast members. Aside from Willemijn Verkaik, who upstaged everyone's vocals through just one solo sung line(?!), Anna Skellern gave a good performance as cutesy Candela, while Haydn Oakley shone with impressive vocals and endearing characterisation as Lucia's pushover son Carlos. Unfortunately thought, all three performers were criminally underused. and despite these performances I still found the musical extremely slow. 

In fact many elements seemed added in for the sake of it. There was a random toreador who appeared to serve no purpose, Peppa being an actress was irrelevant and appearance of the taxi driver was overly convenient and pointless. The script was infuriatingly predictable and longwinded and the characters were mostly unlikable.

I hate to talk so negatively about shows, but I have to be honest in this blog, and I did not enjoy myself much at all. I am sad however to hear that it will close next month, as I am aware that with some audiences this show has been received much more favorably. It does go to show however that everyone's tastes are different, and has proven to me that maybe there are some musicals which I don't enjoy quite as much as others! Who'da thunk it?

Verdict - 1 star

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