East Riding Theatre
Bombshells, written by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith as a vehicle for musical theatre star Caroline O’Connor, is a series of six monologues featuring women in crisis: a mother, worn down by fatigue and self doubt; a spurned wife delivering a lecture on the hardihood of cacti; a young girl desperate to win the school talent show; a bride having second thoughts; an elderly widow sexually reawakened by an encounter with a much younger blind man; and, finally, an alcoholic diva attempting to make a comeback.
Almost incredibly, all six monologues are delivered by the same actor. Bombshells is the latest production from She Productions, resident company at East Riding Theatre.
The play is something of a curiosity in that there is little obvious connection between the six monologues, so that they come across more as standalone vignettes. Ultimately, for all the efforts by the actor (Alice Rose Palmer), this leaves a slightly unsatisfactory feeling as the play lacks a discernible dramatic arc. Notwithstanding, there is much to recommend She’s latest production.
For an individual to hold the attention of an audience for two hours is a significant achievement, and Alice Rose-Palmer’s accomplishment should not be underestimated. She gives each character huge levels of energy and her focus is undiminished by the end of the evening.
Indeed, the best of the evening comes in the second half. The bride—initially ecstatic at her betrothal—panics as the ceremony progresses and the booze flows. Rose-Palmer plays her agonies beautifully—simultaneously hilarious and pathetic—as an inevitable life of post-marital drudgery beckons. However, the best moments come in the piece that follows as Rose-Palmer takes on the role of Winsome, an elderly widow who volunteers to read to a young blind man. The tale of how reading a passage of erotica leads to an unlikely sexual encounter with her client is portrayed with subtlety, compassion and warmth.
There are elements in Rose-Palmer’s performance where the same levels of sensitivity need to be applied—most particularly in the first and second of the monologues. We get a sense of the hurried and frantic lifestyle of the mother but need to feel her pain more. Similarly, the jilted woman presenting a lecture of the cactus is, at times, hysterically funny—but lacks the necessary pathos. Rose-Palmer’s greatest strength is her energy, but there are times when her interpretation needs to be more layered and less manic. As Winsome, she proves emphatically that this is something she can achieve.
Becky Hope-Palmer directs with clarity and precision and enables her performer to distinguish each character convincingly. Personally, I’d have preferred the actor not to have left the stage and made the costume changes simpler and less time-consuming. Nevertheless, the show has some lovely moments and its sharp and economic style, as well as its undoubted appeal, makes it ideal for touring.
Reviewer: Richard Vergette