Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is something of a slow starter. This is a contrast with the usual West End musical fare, but as is the scale.
It initially feels a little weird to see a musical staged almost like a drama and I was slightly underwhelmed at first by the plain white set – which seemed so contrary to the original film’s glorious, garish production design – but, like the production itself, the set is later transformed with bold lighting to bring a much warmer and chaotic feel to the proceedings.
Practically flawless as Tamsin Grieg (Green Wing) is in the lead role, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown only really really comes alive with the arrival of Haydn Gwyne’s Lucia, fabulously stealing the show as a woman unable to let go of her past, and reluctant to let her son make his own future. She manages to be equally hilarious, tragic and terrifying and her second act exploits are especially uproarious.
Anna Skellern (Lip Service) similarly livens up proceedings considerably as she takes to the stage for ‘Model Behaviour’. One of the standout songs of the show, it perfectly encapsulates the dramatic energy of an Almodovar woman with a fantastic musical performance. In a role that is practically a caricature and almost has to be over-played, Skellern is simply marvellous, managing to be utterly over the top, but with a charming vulnerability.
The wonderful dancing of the female matador gives a nod to another Almodóvar film (Talk to Her), but along with some of the other bit part players, adds little to the narrative. The only character who is successful in this dramatic device is Alfonso as the narrator/driver. Within the slightly erratic action, he helps keep the story coherent – and, being the only character with a Spanish accent, reminds us that we are in Madrid.
With so many new film-based musicals relying on existing songs to be muddled into a story, it is refreshing to hear an adaptation with new material. The brave choice to cast a self-confessed non-singer in the lead role really pays off, with Grieg and the rest of the cast putting on a truly entertaining evening.
Grab a glass of valium-laced gazpacho and go see it!
Performed at Playhouse Theatre in London on Monday 16 February 2015.
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