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


Jane Lush as Katrina, Janet Bright as Bell-Bell and Sue Hawkins as Gwenda

Bazaar And Rummage

Swan Theatre, Worcester


It is one of the mysteries of theatre that in more than half a century of reviewing, with up to 100 productions a year these days, five this week alone, this is the first time I have crossed paths with the late Sue Townsend’s comedy from 1982 – and what a little gem it proves to be.

Bazaar and Rummage came in during her pre Adrian Mole days of playwriting along with comedies about subjects such as pregnancy and illiteracy. This one is about agoraphobia, which in this case manifests itself in a fear of leaving home and going outside.

So, we join Gwenda, an ex-agoraphobic and would be social worker who runs an agoraphobic self help group, although as is pointed out, it is hardly a group as they never leave home to meet.

Gwenda, played by Sue Hawkins, has found Jesus, a revelation after a vicar laid healing hands on her after daddy died, healing, you suspect, of the particular spiritual type that was meat and drink to the pages of the News of the World in its pomp.

She is also bolstered by happy pills and you do wonder whether she is there to help the group or is the group what she is using to help herself. Her life seems to have been moulded by a controlling father and she fears the descent of society into chaos, especially at the hands of the . . . lower classes, Alsations and Rastafarians.

By her side is Fliss, played by Poppy Savage, who is normal, or as normal as we can be. She is a trainee social worker just there as a student to see how a self-help group works. While the trying to be controlling Gwenda seems intent of perpetuating the problems of her charges, Fliss is at least trying to help – which labels her a communist and all the lefty social miscreants she can accuse her of being in the eyes of the world going to hell in a hand-cart Gwenda.

The group has been brought together, under supportive escort, to raise funds with a bazaar and rummage sale, which is posh for a jumble sale in case you were wondering. So, we have Katrina, played by Jane Lush as if the world could jump out and bite her at any minute. She lives with husband Maurice in a marriage where sex is a distant memory, she hates even the very thought of it and has a crush on Barry Manilow, where you suspect her repulsion of all things carnal would be severely tested if that most unlikely of opportunities were to arrive. She even has a Barry Manilow T-shirt which she hides in her knicker drawer and wears when Maurice is at Sainsbury’s on Saturday mornings. Please, no one tell her Barry married Garry some ten years ago . . .  

Her life consists of taking her tranquilsers in increasing prescribed doses until Maurice comes home from work and reads aloud all the murders, rapes, motorway pile ups, particularly with people burned live, muggings, robberies and assaults from the paper, cutting them out and sticking them in a scrapbook.

She is now terrified to venture out in the streets of rape, death and destruction. One suspects there may be an element of control here and a fair number of horror stories that, perhaps, have not actually been reported as, perhaps, they never actually happened.

She was a nightclub singer once but her life was blighted by an incident with plastic pineapples in Leicester.

Then we have Bell-Bell who wants to get off her tranquilisers but for some reason needs a doctor’s permission to do it. Her commitment to arranging an appointment you suspect has a hint of waiting for Godot about it.


Bell-Bell with Louise Carter's Margaret in her posh gown, Poppy Savage's Fliss in student dungarees and the Barry bedecked Katrina

Bell-Bell, played by Janet Bright, prefers Isabel if you meet her by the way - unlikely I know as she never goes out – but now you know, just in case – and agoraphobia is perhaps not her biggest problem. Apart from her fear of venturing out she seems fairly normal. Think again. She is a poster girl for OCD. Each day she starts at the top of the house and dusts, vacuums and cleans to the bottom. A knock at the door or a phone call means she has to start the whole process from scratch again. Day in, day out. Her Marigolds are essential items of dress, her protection against germs.

Her friend, they just telephone and have never met, is Margaret, who hasn’t been out the bleedin’ house for 15 years since her Darren was born, and that little bleeder only came out of her bleedin’ womb to see what he could nick!

Margaret, in a glorious performance from bleedin’ Louise Carter, has an impressive command of the . . . more earthy corners of our effin mother tongue.

She appears in a wheelbarrow, having temporarily lost the use of her legs from the fear of finally venturing out.

The first act is scene setting, meeting the characters as they venture into the world outside their front door, the back to being a virgin Katrina, the cleaning obsessed Isabel, the bleedin’ Margaret who the would be group saviour Gwenda hates, and Fliss who can hardly believe what is going on.

The second act starts with clearing up after the sale has finished, two hours of mayhem that didn’t even raise enough to pay room hire. But slowly in the aftermath the women get to tell their stories, picked out by single spots (lighting and sound Steve Willis). In the first act they are figures of fun, some wonderful lines, plenty of laughs and ridiculous situations.

In the second they become people. Gwenda, always quick to take offence, takes umbrage at the suggestion she doesn’t want anyone to get better because that would start to break the group she had created and now relies on as her own crutch. So, she storms off, leaving the group she supposedly is there to help to find their own way home, on their own.

If they could do that they would not need the group!

Then comes the cathartic revelations. Bleedin’ game for laugh, up for anything Margaret – if she could ever get out of course – is suddenly a vulnerable teenager, in a situation no one should have to suffer. Her tale his harrowing, we feel for her, want to comfort her and the laughs now seem hollow and so long, long ago. One moment and her life, happiness, normality, even innocence . . . gone.

We are delighted for her when she is transformed by Katrina persuading her to wear one of her show gowns, aided by the rest, Bell-Bell on hair, Fliss assisting in make up, with protests slowly diminishing, like an emerging butterfly she is changed from rough, swearing, sink estate, care worn single mom, old before her time, to a more than fanciable, elegant glamorous woman - as long as she didn’t open her bleedin’ mouth of course.

It was almost as if getting the bottled-up, unspoken past trauma off her chest at last had made her into a new woman.

It was then we heard of Bell-Bell’s, life, the death of her husband, the cleaning and the hiding in the secret world of herself, or Katrina’s own trauma, the incident in Leicester that had marked her card for life, or at least until now.

Even Triss was not immune, her childhood with an obsessive gardener father leaving its mark. But somehow, with the past revealed, the healing could begin, and with Triss’s encouragement the self help group were finally persuaded to help themselves. Only a small step for us but huge for them and we leave them carrying the unsold jumble . . . outside!

The play is interspersed with songs (music Shirlie Roden), some quite complex numbers, with several parts, about such diverse subjects as Barry and ending with a more triumphal My Day, with Poppy Savage, a musician as well as actor, doubling up as musical director.

Directed by Jason Mosely, it is a fun play drifting into musical, with plenty of laughs but with an underlying sadness and some poignant moments in the second half.

As I said this is the first time I have seen this play but it has been a delight to finally make its acquaintance. The jumble sale, if you can manage to get out of course, will be running to 21-10-23.

Roger Clarke


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