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Recipe for a Perfect Housewife

Christina McCulloch and Nadia Papachronopoulou
Charing Cross Theatre
(2011)

Recipe for a Perfect Housewife publicity graphic

With so many theatres and playwrights keen on ‘updating’ or ‘modernising’ shows to make them more relevant, it’s odd to find a show that does the opposite. Recipe For A Perfect Housewife is a satirical look at 50s housewives; but with such a dated subject matter, this fluffy comedy finds it difficult to hit the spot.

It’s the 1950s and five women are competing on a new hit TV game-show for the chance to be crowned Britain’s Perfect Housewife. Hosted by Berty Baxter and his lovely perfect wife Betty (be sure to buy her book) the show grills them on such important skills as cooking, housework and maintaining a cheerful disposition.

But the play is, as the plot suggests, rather shallow and lacking in substance. The overly excitable women and the cringingly Bruce Forsyth-like presenter (played with some nice characterisation by Matt Houlihan) are initially amusing if not laugh-out-loud funny, but the joke quickly wears thin.

In an attempt to add depth, each housewife is given a short monologue about her sad life behind the happy façade. But, of course, these 50s housewife troubles are too dated to have any relevance to the audience. Similarly, a rather random moment of abstract that has three of the housewives cooking up the recipe of the title with such ingredients as pills, depression and obedience is irritatingly passive rather than tragic.

The show is accompanied by Kitty and her Cats, a trio who provide songs and adverts. But the songs are just another filler for what is essentially a ten minute sketch. They lack the close harmonies of the Andrews Sisters that you would expect and, especially in the case of the inappropriately chosen ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ which sends out a completely different message to the rest of the show, they serve very little purpose. Whilst the girls do their best to keep up their plastic smiles, some awkward gaps in choreography leave them standing like lemons.

As well as having a strange set of ingredients, this cake is also under-baked. Nadia Papachronopoulous’s direction lacks sharpness and the cast sometimes slip up on lines and cues. Everything is a little runny and under-rehearsed, in particular the sound and lighting. Lighting cues are slow and often characters aren’t well lit, especially in the monologues when the actresses' faces are thrown into shadow in moments when we’re meant to connect and be sympathetic with them. The sound of canned laughter and applause is occasionally thrown in, but it’s so sporadic that it sounds like the sound system is broken and the sound only sometimes manages to punch through.

This mostly light-hearted show is an odd mesh of things, but sadly it just isn’t funny enough to counter how dated it is. Christina McCulloch’s script, peppered as it is with obvious jokes and unsubtle innuendos, is not sharp enough to cover the weak spots of the play, and too shallow to be making any kind of social comment.

Reviewer: Emma Berge