I saw Dirty Dusting at The Customs House on Wednesday 14 June, where it started life 20 years ago. It is a double anniversary as this Artists International Management Ltd and Entertainment Unlimited production is celebrating its 10th anniversary touring the play. While I know the play very well, it is always an enjoyable night out, no matter how many times you may have seen it, as many will testify.
It involves three geriatric cleaners getting the sack, so they set up a sex line in the office at the weekend to get revenge! There, I bet that raised a smile and you do not even know the story. The central characters, Gladys, Elsie and Olive, each have their own distinctive characters and background. It is hard not to recognise one as an auntie, gran, mother or neighbour so you instantly have a connection and are involved.
I was fortunate enough to be involved with the birth of this play 20 years ago, and with many it has a special place in my heart. I recall saying to the two local writers, Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, you may write all your life and never write another play like this, it will run as long as The Mousetrap. After playing The Customs House, it went on to play to packed houses at other local theatres, like Theatre Royal and Tyne Theatre and Opera House, then nationally and further afield in Australia and New Zealand.
The original cast starred the well-known actor Davey Whitaker, sadly gone, and three friends in real life, the ‘Angels of the North’, Helen Russell, Jean Southern and Gwen Doran, who sadly died recently. The girls were all in their 70s then, but real troupers playing to sold-out houses and a delight to see. This show stars the versatile Leah Bell, who also directed it in her own inimitable style, the unique Crissy Rock, talented Vanessa Karon and multi-talented Paul Dunn, and the show romps along with the definite Bell stamp. The rapturous applause from the full auditorium speaks for itself.
The Customs House has been a great pioneer of new writing, hosting an annual new writing competition, especially in the ‘good old days’, the days of money and funding. It provided a platform for aspiring writers, young and old, and as you can see, some of that work still plays today. Wood said, “it’s such a joy to see the play that Ed and I wrote 20 years ago is still playing to packed houses all over the country. Long may it continue.”
The tour ended on Saturday 17 June 2023, but do not fear if you have missed it this time around I have a feeling it will return, so watch this space.