Writer: Melanie Blake
Adaptation: Melanie Blake & Fiona Looney
Director: Joyce Branagh
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
There is a trend in popular music these days for bands of yesteryear to come out of the woodwork for a couple of big paydays and then disappear like thieves in the night. Of course, they make a huge wedge of cash at the end of the day but the same tensions that led to their demise in the first place are there for all to see.
It’s an all too familiar story and one that Melanie Blake knows like the back of her hand, having worked in the music industry for 20 plus years. From PR to music management Blake has seen it, done it and sold the T-shirt on a merchandise stand. She has since turned her hand to writing and in July this year her novel The Thunder Girls was released. Well now, she can now add playwright to her already impressive CV as The Thunder Girls has been adapted for the stage.
Set 30 years after the band The Thunder Girls broke up, we find Roxanne, Carly and Anita invited to the palatial home of Carol. Since the split life has been hard for three of the four members, with Roxanne struggling as a single mum, Carly trapped in a stale marriage, and Anita has gone AWOL following a rather embarrassing Eurovision incident, more chunder girl than thunder girl! Seemingly only Chrissie is doing well for herself, having forged a successful solo career, but at a cost to her relationship with her band mates, having walked away from them and stitched them up over contracts and royalties.
As Roxanne and Carly arrive at Carol’s, it’s clear that the reunion won’t go well, as time has not healed old wounds and resentment rides high. Roxanne and Carol are at each other’s throats from the outset, Carly acting as peacekeeper. After a bit of verbal jousting between the three it turns out it wasn’t the classic ‘musical differences’ that broke the band, more a lot of greed jealousy, and betrayal, in particular, Carol’s affair with Roxanne’s boyfriend Rick (Gary Webster) who was also the band’s manager.
However, Rick is back on the scene with the possibility of a huge money-spinning concert and the chance to play Wembley Stadium, can The Thunder Girls put aside their differences for one last crack at the big time?
The Thunder Girls is an enjoyable, fun yet flawed production that always entertains and occasionally frustrates. Despite the odd misplaced line, the cast are on the whole impressive, Carol Harrison is at times suitably loathsome as diva Carol, playing her just on the right side of ‘panto’ villain, whilst at the time showing her insecurities and vulnerable side. Sandra Marvin is great as Carly, the conscience of the group; she puts in a more subtle, measured performance. Coleen Nolan’s eventual arrival is a welcome reset. Her performance is full of humour, and a much-needed sense of fun. Nolan certainly knows how to work a crowd and does so as and when she could, which added to the show. Finally, Beverley Callard is on tremendous form as the fiery Roxanne, who it’s fair to say gets all the best lines, and Callard spits them out with all the venom of a king cobra, it really is a treat to behold. The script has an acerbic tongue throughout with each the cast making the most of their cutting barbs that had the audience in stitches.
There are a few issues with the show, the running time could be leaner and needs a trim, as at times it can feel laboured. In addition, there are a few musical numbers in there which are either sang live or lip synced: it’s a bit jarring to see a song sung live then another mimed later, it seemed needlessly distracting, go with one or the other not both.
With the verbal sparring and a fight thrown into the mix the show is more “Thunder Cats” than “The Thunder Girls”. However, this is much more than a two-hour slanging match. This is an interesting, entertaining critique of the music industry, and all the pressure that comes with living in the public eye. From Spanx to gossip columns, shady deals to Botox and the of trying to relevant. Much more than that this a story of friendship and the cathartic nature of letting go of the past and a great example of escapism theatre, that will leave you with a smile on your face and a fresh collection of insults for when someone really pisses you off!
Runs until the 28 September 2019 | Image: Rob Martin