Waitress – The Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Book: Jessie Nelson

Music and Lyrics: Sara Bareilles

Director: Diane Paulus

Take one waitress and expert pie-maker stuck in a loveless marriage. Add a dishy doctor who’s new in town. Let it simmer, turning up the heat until things start to boil.

This is the story of Jenna, who works as a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner with her friends and colleagues Becky and Dawn. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she meets gynaecologist Dr Pommater, who’s recently arrived from out of the area. Things soon start to get heated as their relationship develops along with Jenna’s pregnancy. Will things end happily or in tears? Meanwhile, Becky and Dawn seem determined not to be left out of things as they look for their own bits of excitement.

Turn a blind eye to the obvious moral and ethical issues going on in the plot and Waitress has at its heart a feel-good story full of humour. With an all-female creative team, it’s a story by women, about women. You have dreams and ambitions – should you shelve them when you get married, when you have children? If you’re incredibly good at doing something, should you be able to take that further or be tied down as a wife in a low-paid job whose husband is never happy with the money you bring home?

Jenna is a huge role – she is hardly off stage – involving some big emotional journeys and taking centre stage at this performance is Aimée Fisher, on in place of Chelsea Halfpenny. Fisher’s performance is polished and accomplished, with some good vocals (Waitress is not always an easy sing) and her relationships and reactions seem entirely believable. As her colleagues we have Sandra Marvin as Becky and Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn, and the relationship between them has a heart-warming supportiveness to it. Becky is the sassy one of the three, constantly talking back to manager Cal (a delightfully obnoxious Christopher D Hunt) and Marvin gives us a confident performance in the role, showing some great vocals in her big show-stopping number at the start of Act II, I Didn’t Plan It. Dawn is the shy one with a secret passion for War of Independence re-enactments and Hoskins seems made for the role. Her relationship with Ogie is a delight – and George Crawford’s performance as the quirky, slightly odd fellow-enthusiast gives us moments of sheer comic joy.

As Jenna’s love interest is Matt Jay-Willis as Dr Pommater. His emotional journey is well portrayed – initial awkwardness that makes you feel uncomfortable for him, then as his confidence develops alongside his relationship with Jenna so you warm to him too. His vocals are good, though he doesn’t get too many opportunities to show them off.

With lots of characters, some of them don’t feel entirely fully fleshed out but there’s sufficient there for us to get a good feel for what’s going on inside. There are some nice contrasts between the laugh-out-loud funny and poignant moments, and the score by Sara Bareilles is tuneful and varied, helping to move the plot and characters along nicely. As a production, it’s fast-paced and slick.

A good evening out.

Runs until 15 January 2022 and touring

The Reviews Hub Score

Slick and enjoyable.

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