Cheryl Fergison, Deena Payne, Róisín O’Neill., Emma Rigby with Tony Christie in the background. Pictures: Graeme Braidwood

Ladies' Day

Wolverhampton Grand


A day at the races for four fish filleters has a few home truths galloping up the home straight in Amanda Whittington’s bawdy comedy about life and love among the boneless cod steaks.

It premiered with the Hull Truck Company back in 2005, the year Royal Ascot was moved to York while the Berkshire course had a facelift, but Whittington has reworked her play to move it from Hull to present day Wolverhampton – packing in local references which always delight an audience.

It means the fish factory is just down the road from the Grand and a mere bus ride from Dunstall Park so when Pearl decides to give up work to look after husband Mick – she’s not retiring as she keeps telling anyone who will listen – a leaving do at a Ladies Day at Wolverhampton Racecourse is just the ticket.

Deena Payne (Emmerdale) gives us a sterling performance as Pearl, who has her own romantic reasons for wanting a day at the races, a reason we discover in a heart to heart with Jan.

And Cheryl Fergison is a real star as the well upholstered, larger than life, Jan. Single mum Jan’s life revolves around her teenage daughter, an obsession that serves as an excuse to shun life and relationships after she threw out her philandering husband – or did he leave of his own accord?


Róisín O’Neill as Linda and Sean McKenzie as Pat

Fergison nails the part beautifully from her initial reluctance to go out and have a good time, to her brash and finally tired and emotional – as a newt – afternoon of booze and bets. Her shock at Pearl’s revelation is a gem “but you’re a wife, with children, a grandchild, a house bought and paid for” and the clincher “and a caravan in Bridgenorth!”

It is a lovely, heartfelt exchange.

Then there is Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks) as the man (must be rich) obsessed Shelley, the epitome of sex on legs who loses the wellies, overalls and hairnet of the fish factory to reveal a dress tight enough to be painted on and with a cut low enough to provide a window display for her assets.

St Helens born Emma’s Wolverhampton accent at times appeared to be a somewhat unusual one, perhaps from a part of the city still to be discovered, but, then again girls who look like that tend to be forgiven anything. Looks are not everything though, except in Shelley’s case they probably are as brains are not her strong point.

She has some lovely lines though and after her brash, me first attitude at the opening, we find that beneath the wannabe rich and famous, and at times brash and even crude exterior she is a vulnerable, frightened desperate girl only saved from making a terrible and disastrous choice by an angry Pearl laying down the law.

Her growing relationship with Sean McKenzie’s smarmy, licentious TV presenter, ends with him offering her a proposition – a cash transaction – taking advantage of her plight, and it is a moment when you really start to feel for the good time girl whose life is far from good.

McKenzie plays all the male parts from Joe, the fish factory foreman and Jan’s love interest – if only the pair could pluck up the courage to admit it – and is involved in another moving scene with the last of our fish filleting quartet, Linda, played with bags of charm by Róisín O’Neill.

Linda is shy, and being milked dry by her leach of a mother who comes to stay with her, or rather sponge off her regularly, “just until she gets on her feet”. McKenzie is Pat, an Irish jockey, a once top rider now past his prime and with his nerve and drive left on the turf after a bad fall.



Asking the way to Amarillo - Tony Christie

The two meet in a moving exchange as Pat tells Linda what it is like to win, and the shy Linda tells him how she was brought up by her gran and had a mother who was anything. For once she could open up to someone, he had found a friend who wants nothing from her.

Linda is obsessed with Tony Christie, so when the girls decide to bet on the Tote jackpot they pick six horses with names related to Tony Christie songs – the sort of system that explains why bookmakers holiday in the Bahamas and drive Jags – except sometimes . . .

And if Tony Christie inspires the bet why not have the man himself, after all he only lives up the road in Lichfield. He appears with his songs, unseen by the cast, as scenes are changed until the final happy ending when he joins the girls in a celebration.

This is the Grand’s second community production following on from the successful Brassed Off last year, this time with 27 extras playing families, security staff and racegoers on John Brooking’s simple but adequate set

There are plenty of laughs, some serious moments and although the characters are not fully fleshed out, they are recognisable as people we might know and they never become caricatures in the deft hands of directors Jason Capewell and Alasdair Harvey.

The result is an entertaining fun evening with laughs, some witty lines, revelations and tears and a happy ending with people leaving with a smile on their face. To 28-07-18

Roger Clarke


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