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

Selling a jumble of phobias

cast of Bazaar and rummage

Born again virgin Katrina, played by Marika Farr, bleedin' Margaret, played by Jenny Luke, cleanliness obsessed Bell Bell, Amanda Salt, social work student Fliss, Faye Stanton, and clutching daddy's standard lamp, Gwenda, played by Lynn Ravenhill

Bazaar and Rummage

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


IT IS easy to forget, if indeed many people knew in the first place, that Sue Townsend was playwright before Adrian Mole started scribbling his secret diaries.

And Bazaar and Rummage was born the same year as Master Mole, 1982. It is an old fashioned jumble sale organised by an agoraphobics self help group, not that many sufferers will venture out of the safe cocoon of their homes to see it, especially if they are being helped by Gwenda, played by Lynn Ravenhill.

She is a sort of cross between Hyacinth Bucket and Thora Hird, and is their unqualified social worker, who knows better than the professionals, and whose idea of treatment seems more inclined to nourish a condition rather than defeat it.

She gave up her life to look after daddy, who by all accounts was a bully until the day he died, under a standard lamp that Gwenda still sees as daddy’s beacon on earth. Having lost daddy, she has found God and has a line in hands-on healing which seems to have its origins in all-in wresting.

As an ex-agoraphobic she sees herself as an expert on the condition, which puts into an uneasy partnership with the “scruffbag” Fliss, played in rather more tough love style by Faye Stanton. Lefty Fliss, a student social worker, is at the opposite end of the political, and indeed treatment spectrum to Gwenda, who as time goes on explodes into a tirade against her young rival accusing her of being a lefty, liberal, pinko . . .etc . . .Communist.

In a group that could well find sponsorship from Librium, Vallium and Mogadon, their Agoraphobic charges are led by Katrina, played by Marika Farr, an ex-club singer whose condition seems to stem, in part, from an unfortunate incident involving pineapples while appearing in Leicester some four and half years ago.

She is not helped by husband Maurice reading all the goriest, most violent news to her when he gets home and then pasting them in a scrapbook. Hence the somewhat vacant Katrina, who to be fair is not one of nature’s gifted, believes the streets are full of riots and are populated entirely by rapists and muggers, while the roads and motorways are full of people burning to death in multi car pile-ups.

Her days are full of  . . . nothing really apart from listening with religious fervour  to her hero Barry Manilow. As an extra phobia to add to her ample collection she  hates everything about  . . . well let’s just say she declares she would rather do a jigsaw than sex. Katrina doesn’t actually like Maurice, while, not that secretly, Gwenda does.

Then there is Bell Bell, Isabel, played with a Gwenda and Katrinamore aloof air by Amanda Salt. She has lost her husband to a suicide and seems almost normal on the face of it apart from her fear of going out, until we find out her day consists entirely of cleaning her house from top to bottom, and if she is disturbed by a phone call or caller, she has to start all over again. Rubber gloves are part of her normal dress.

Gwenda calls on the power of the Lord in her hands on healing while Katrina calls on the power of . . . er . . . Barry

Finally we have Margaret, foul mouthed Margaret, played by Jenny Luke, with a son she reckons only came out of the womb to see what he could nick. She has not been out of the house for 17 years, making her the senior member of the group. She is disliked by the controlling and pious Gwenda both for her foul mouth and, perhaps more important, her refusal to be controlled. Some of their exchanges are f***ing priceless.

You might feel sorry for airhead, born again virgin, Katrina with her controlling husband, or hygiene obsessed Bell Bell, or even Gwenda with her life stolen by a brutal demanding father, but it is Margaret who stops the show. The demons of the rest are not things with which you can easily empathise, they don’t grip the imagination and seem designed as much for laughs as sympathy, comedy over compassion.

But then there is bleedin’ Margaret, hard as nails, streetwise, or she would be if she ever managed go outside, Margaret. Her demons are real, her demons are immediately understood. As she bares her soul in graphic detail the laughter stops, the smiles vanish. Hers is a harrowing tale anyone can understand and the audience empathy is palpable. This is no longer a comedy, it is a jolt of reality just as arresting as Gwenda’s electric shock treatments.

Understandably it takes a moment or two before the pace can pick up again but as a nice touch at the end we have the appearance of Hilary Thompson as the local WPC popping into the local church hall to see why the lights were on, and immediately bursting into tears because she doesn’t like meeting people – they are are all liars and thieves - and can’t cope with community policing, showing perhaps that you don’t need posh medical phobias to have your own personal terrors.

With Gwenda, and her car, having stormed off, our three agoraphobics are stranded until Fliss persuades them to brave the cold dark streets between them and the safety of home, helped by the reluctant WPC. They might not be cured, but at least as they step, terrified, out into the night they have all at least made a start.

This is a fine studio performance, directed by Terry Cooper Day with the cast giving us six very different and distinct characters who keep the interest from beginning to end with plenty of laughs along the way.

Set in 1985 some of the language and issues will not exactly be seen as politically correct 30 years on, 33 from when the play was written, but one of Sue Townsend’s strengths is she writes it as she sees it, as it is, or was in this case. And that is how it should be seen in the context of the times.

It is a funny, poignant, sad and although highly entertaining, it also gives a glimpse, amid all the laughter, of a frightening world of phobias where rationality struggles to exist. An enjoyable evening that makes you think. To 22-11-14.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate