Ladies Unleashed

Amanda Whittington
Hull Truck Theatre Company
Hull Truck Theatre

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Ladies Unleashed

Hull Truck’s 50th anniversary year continues with a new work by Amanda Whittington, Ladies Unleashed. It forms the third part of a trilogy of plays which began with Ladies Day in 2005 and continued with Ladies Down Under in 2007 (both also commissioned by Hull Truck).

The setting for most of the play is Lindisfarne or Holy Island where the ladies (Fenella Norman as Pearl, Allison Saxton as Jan and Sara Beharrell as Linda) are there to celebrate Linda’s hen night and wedding. Travelling from Hull on a series of delayed trains, they eventually make it onto the island only to discover that their accommodation has been double-booked and is occupied by a less than friendly tourist from Liverpool (Franlie, played by Martha Godber). The three resolve to spend the night in the open air and are unexpectedly joined by their friend, Shelley (Gemma Oaten), who is home—they assume—from Australia.

A subplot, set in the distant past, involves two Lindisfarne herring girls—Mable (also played by Martha Godber) and Daisy (Nell Baker). Mabel dreams of music-hall stardom in London, while Daisy is trapped not only by circumstance but also by her own religious convictions.

The principal problem with Ladies Unleashed is that the plot is simultaneously improbable yet oddly uneventful. Predictably, the characters are initially jolly, then they get angry with each other and then they make friends again. Whilst that may be a familiar trajectory of friendship, the revelations about personal lives feel contrived and the situation fails to allow the relationships to develop convincingly. Mark Babych’s direction seems almost trying to force some life into the piece, by having the actors over-project comic lines and ‘grafting’ manic moments of frantic activity which are just not funny. This attempt to force the pace of the first half only serves to demonstrate how empty of genuine warmth, tension and humour it really is.

The second half is a considerable improvement and the story of the young herring girls who dream of better lives has poignancy and is captivatingly played by both actors. But its connection to the main plot is tenuous and frustratingly under-explored. The magic of Lindisfarne is also far more of a feature of the latter part of the play with some nicely observed moments by Fenella Norman as Pearl, gazing at the cosmos as she reflects on the emptiness of her life. However, these genuinely moving moments are too few and far between and the overuse of plaintive music almost suggests a need to 'signpost' to the audience that they're about to watch a sad part. Whilst the ending is necessarily upbeat, the finale of the company dancing to a Beyonce song is frankly more excruciating than celebratory.

Fundamentally, Ladies Unleashed isn’t ready for production. The structure is weak, the dialogue clumsy and the situation not sufficiently developed to be believable. A cast of good actors deserves better.

Reviewer: Richard Vergette