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

The Regina Monologues & Bombshells

Highbury Theatre Centre, Sutton Coldfield


THE stylised funereal entrance made by the six actresses involved in The Regina Monologues takes on a special significance when realisation dawns that we are embarking upon a modern parallel to the unfortunate story of the wives of Henry VIII. 

It is not a story in which any wife talks to another one. As with the wives of the murderous monarch, they keep their misfortunes to themselves – apart from sharing them with their audience, of course. So we get a succession of monologues, some long and some short, all illuminating, some throwing in an amusing comment about ginger hair and one remarking that her middle-age spread is threatening to envelop Warwickshire. 

But generally speaking, this is serious stuff, presented absolutely splendidly as an example of superb teamwork that is lit with distinction by Steve Bowyer and Andy Wilkes. The high point, the screamingly riveting episode, is provided by the wife in childbirth. Not really the material with which to confront a mere male on a night out – though, that said, this remarkable double bill has a man at the helm. Take a bow, Rob Phillips. While you're at it, take another: this is an evening he has directed with unerring sensitivity and an alert eye for the many levels of possibility. 


And quite apart from these horrifyingly alarming moments, the script provided by Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer is one that pulls no punches. There are times when – again – an unsuspecting man may well think there is too much feminine information and that he would rather not know. Even if he can take the reference to bleeding, there are home truths for him about sweat and bad breath and nose hair, calculated to prompt the nervous laugh. 

The company rises to its many challenges unerringly. Emily Armstrong, Faye Arrowsmith, Suzy Donnelly, Michaela Morris, Kay Standen and Dee White take turns in casting a pin-drop spell over their audience.

And when they are not in the spotlight, they are models of immobility. Here are professionals in all but name. 

Their standard is maintained – but on a distinctly riotous level – by Kelly Williams, pictured left,  in Joanna Murray-Smith's Bombshells.

I have not worked out the reason for the title, but there really is no need to do so, unless it is a reference to the way in which Kelly explodes into our awareness as Meryl, the super-frantic breast-feeding mother of three who panics about the jobs she has not done, speaks high-speed staccato and is gasping for a coffee. 

Then she is Tiggy, whose hesitant lecture on cacti somehow turns into an account of her battles with life. She becomes Mary O'Donnell, the gum-chewing Scouse who is thwarted in a talent contest because somebody else does her McCavity act and she moves instead to an improvised dance routine that has been amusingly choreographed by Kay Standen.

Finally, she is Zoe, the American diva who has hit the bottle and the downward slope but manages to deliver I am what I am and I'm here, both amusingly and touchingly. 

Kelly makes the second half of the programme a four-sided slice of life – often hilarious, occasionally touching, always a joy of unchained talent that ensures that this is a double bill to be treasured in the memory. To 15.5.10.

John Slim

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