Menopause the Musical 2: Cruising Through the Menopause – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Reviewer: Pete Benson

Writer: Jeanie Linders

Director: Belinda Murphy

If you saw Menopause The Musical, then you know exactly what to expect with Menopause The Musical 2, more of the same and this is exactly what the audience gets. This time we meet our four protagonists on a luxury cruise.

The first thing to strike us as the show starts is just how shockingly appalling the sound is. It feels as if the soundcheck is being carried out as the show progresses. This is such a massive disservice to the four talented performers as well as a problem for the audience as the show relies heavily on musical parody. Jeanie Linders has humorously rewritten lyrics of popular songs but the words are extremely hard to discern. The sound slowly improves during the first twenty minutes of the show until it settles at an acceptable standard.

Despite the edgy material and breaking of taboo, the show owes more than a little to good old fashioned vaudeville theatre. It breaks down into a series of themed routines with different combinations of its characters. The four performers have both singing and acting chops and as an ensemble have great chemistry together. They are at the most musically pleasing when the four create rich strong harmonies together. That is not to say that their individual voices are not also pleasing. Each character gets a solo turn where they reveal a little of their back story to us.

Nicki French is a successful career woman who laments the time she has missed with her son as he grew up. This is presented as a monologue which is comic yet also laced with a strong sad undercurrent giving it much more power than a series of jokes would carry.

In contrast, the talented, Rebecca Wheatley’s character is a working-class widow who has brought her husband’s ashes on holiday with her. The menopause has made her more eager for sex but she is embarrassed to use sexual words so they are either whispered, reduced to a gesture or omitted entirely. She exudes a strong sense of loss and regret which again gives power to her words and makes her situation more real for the audience. She sums up her life with a well-delivered parody of The Impossible Dream.

By the time Nicole Barber-Lane presents her story the sound problems are long forgotten. Her character is a TV celebrity whose career came to a sudden and crashing end causing her toyboy to immediately desert her. She now finds solace in the arms of her equally lonely neighbour. Her story is concluded with her admission that she compares herself with every other woman, this brings a palpable recognition from the audience.

Finally, Cheryl Fergison, who is the natural comic of the group, tells her story. Despite the fact that she sobs at her memory of feeling utterly alone when she dealt with her menopause, hers is the most positive and uplifting of all the monologues.

The show has the thinnest of through lines but it makes the most of what it has as it peaks with the four women competing in the ship’s karaoke competition as the Spice Girls: these four middle-aged women have all the moves, energy and sass of the original youthful group. In some ways, this is such a triumphal moment that the show loses some momentum after this. The finale songs are not the strongest which is a shame because the final message, of women finding real lasting friendship with other women, is a powerful one. Nonetheless, it chimes with the mostly female audience in a big way leading to an honest heartfelt standing ovation.

This show is a hilarious celebration of middle-aged women and this is a great cast which more than does justice to whatever style of song is sung. Their archetype characters are all well-defined and likeable and the show feels inclusive, a little bit like a warm hug. Sadly on this occasion, the poor sound detracted from an otherwise excellent show.

Reviewed on 10 March 2020

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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