Writer: Mike James
Director: Anna Linstrum
Reviewer: Niall Harman
If you were a young girl growing up in Britain in the 1970s you lived for Jackie magazine, or at least that’s what my mother tells me. So it comes as no surprise that in an age dominated by jukebox musicals, the magazine is now serving as a backdrop for a musical filled to the brim with hits by the likes of David Essex and Donny Osmond, which has the crowds of fiftysomething women flocking to see it and dancing in the aisles.
The plot is paper thin and full of theatrical clichés. Jackie (Janet Dibley), the protagonist sharing her name with her favourite teen magazine, tries to re-enter the dating pool after her husband left her for a younger womanwhile despairing that she is ‘nearly 60’ (she is actually 54). She is egged on by a loud Prosecco-fuelled friend (Lori Haley Fox) who also seems to not have her life together. Meanwhile, the man who left her is adapting to new life with the younger Gemma, nicknamed ‘the horse’ because of her distinctive laugh – a joke that wasn’t funny the first, second or even fifth time. Jackie also battles with a long-haired, lovelorn teenage son who refuses to go to college, wanting instead to be the next David Bowie.
The magazine serves as inspiration for both Jackie and her son in their quests for love. Clearing out the loft she discovers hundreds of copies of Jackie, and begins to imagine what her younger self would make of her now. This is, aside for the loud musical numbers, the most fun element of the show. Seeing the younger Jackie, always in a minidress or flared jeans, tell her older self what to do using the magazine’s advice, highlights how ridiculous it was and shows that the show does not take itself too seriously. Advice such as; how to prepare for a kiss on the doorstep, remember to use lemons to maintain soft elbows and that a man with large earlobes only really wants one thing from you.
Most of the audience are there for a musical trip down memory lane, and the songs, performed by a committed and lively cast do not disappointand do move the plot along as well as making the audience smile. Perhaps inevitably, Jackie sings What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? as the show’s opening number to highlight her hopeless romantic situation, Dancing on a Saturday Night shows Jackie’s friend willing her to go to a 70s themed disco while I Love to Love (but my baby just loves to dance) becomes a letter pleading for advice from Jackie’s agony aunts Cathy and Claire. However, the transition to Jackie’s new love interest (Nicholas Bailey) singing Love is in the Air at the end of the first act felt painfully forced and awkward.
Despite looking a bit out of place during the large-scale dance numbers, Janet Dibley is the ideal Jackie, perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown. From the large cast, it is Michael Hamway as her son and Daisy Steele as the younger Jackie that stand out. While the plot is obvious (as is Arlene Phillips’ lively choreography), Mike James’ script is littered with some great gags, and it isn’t ever really clear what dialogue comes from James and what comes from actual issues of Jackie. Tim Shortall’s set is a little disappointingbut does lend itself to the ‘cheap but cheerful’ vibe of the evening. His 70s costumes are brilliant though and had me thinking that it may be time to bring back floppy hats and puffy shirts.
Is Jackie a good musical? Not particularly, but it’s great fun, the cast seem to be having the time of their lives up on stage and its intended audience will love it. They were up on their feet dancing away at the end, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens every night of its lengthy UK tour.
Runs until 9 April 2016 |Image: Pamela Raith