Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A girl full of next door charm

Some Girl I Used to Know

 Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


This one woman show introduces a novel concept, a jukebox monologue, starring Denise Van Outen living  out a mid life crisis as alter ego Stephanie, set in a hotel room, belting out some period torch songs, a reboot of Shirley Valentine for  a new generation.

The pressure of a lone performance is considerable and when the performer has co-written the script, as is the case here, with Terry Ronald, there is nowhere to hide.

Although ostensibly the tale of an Essex girl lingerie saleswoman made good, the parallels with her own story are thinly disguised. Her love life is balanced between a racy, louche lover, whose attributes bear a remarkable resemblance to first husband pop star Jay Kay, and a safe but dull lover, remarkably similar to second husband Lee Mead.

Van Outen is no Wag made good. She can act, sing, and dance, with a professional resume far stronger than her paparazzi driven career suggests. In particular, she delivers the Steve Anderson remixes of 80’s and 90’s hits, including Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and Soft Cell’s Say Hello, Wave Goodbye , the two best numbers of the night, with some style, and considerable affection.

The songs and music  provide welcome variety and  subliminal context to the narrative. But her acting alone has not brought her fortune, and of course we get an on stage changing scene to provide an opportunity to appreciate her physical charms, spicing up the evening nicely for her male admirers. She looks fabulous in her vertiginous Jimy Choo heels too.

At the heart of this is the well–worn dilemma of the girl who has it all - who hasn’t. Is she tempted by the Facebook poke of her flawed old flame? Or are the dying embers of her current relationship worth reigniting? Inevitably it teeters on vain self-indulgence, but is saved by Van Outen’s straight to audience delivery, and girl-next-door charm.

The script itself has some funny lines, but strains a little under the lone performer format. If her love interests Sean and Paul had made physical appearances, the show would have benefitted enormously.

Michael Howcroft’s production, staged on Morgan Large’s lush hotel room set, ekes the maximum out of the raw materials. Van Outen is likeable, confident and sassy, playing to the expectations of her sizable fan club, mostly women of a similar age, who lapped up every dip of the hips, and wink of the eye.

A chick lit story for the stage, fans will be delighted, not least by her singing. The show runs till Saturday 22-02-14 and then continues on tour. 

Gary Longden

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