The Thunder Girls

Melanie Blake
Blake & Squire
The Lowry, Salford

The Thunder Girls Credit: Rob Martin and Blake & Squire
The Thunder Girls Credit: Rob Martin and Blake & Squire
The Thunder Girls Credit: Rob Martin and Blake & Squire

The run of referential shows at The Lowry continues. The Thunder Girls arrives, following Mrs Lowry & Son and A Taste of Honey, written by Melanie Blake—whose rehousing by Salford Council saved her from homelessness.

The Thunder Girls is staged in the medium-sized Quays Theatre but shows signs of ambitions for larger venues. A group of cameras at the rear of the theatre are filming the show and the stage set by Richard Foxton is decidedly opulent. Pale grey silk curtains surround the stage and Andy Warhol style prints and framed gold discs are hanging on the walls. It would be stylish except for a lapse in taste—a sofa designed like a pair of pouting lips—that gives the game away: this is the home of a faded rock star.

However, if The Thunder Girls is to have a longer life in bigger venues, the script might need some attention. In the 1980s, all-girl band The Thunder Girls had a brief claim to fame before lead singer Chrissie (Carol Harrison) staged a coup copyrighting the band’s name and taking credit for the songs written by bandmate Carly (Sandra Marvin). In the present day, all of the former group are in reduced circumstances and the lucrative offer of a reunion gig is hard to resist. However, Chrissie is unrepentant and old resentments are hard to overcome.

The nature of The Thunder Girls is hard to determine. Melanie Blake and Lee Monteverde are credited with writing the music and (along with Jack Wheeler) the lyrics. However, there is little commitment to making the show a musical; indeed, it barely constitutes a play with music. There are only five songs (one per character and a group sing-along) and the long gaps between them make it surprising when a character bursts into song. The lyrics are more dialogue set to music—repeating details of which the audience is already aware—than serving to define a character or act as standalone songs. The limited musical content seems contrary to the premise of the show, which is after all, to tell the tale of a rock band.

As the characters rarely sing and the space for physical acting is limited, the cast concentrate on talking. They talk a lot but omit relevant details. At one time, it was traditional to summarise members of pop groups in a single word (cute, clever, quiet and Ringo). Blake follows this reductive approach and gives very brief details of the professional lives of The Thunder Girls. We know Chrissie was lead singer and Carly the songwriter but have no idea what the other members contributed to the group.

Blake is more interested in the lives of the characters in the present day. There are more catty remarks about dodgy hairstyles and gaining weight and pop culture references to reality TV than tales of rock ’n’ roll debauchery. However, such staples as love triangles, a concealed fatherhood and drink problems nudge the play into the area of soap opera. Director Joyce Branagh sets a gossipy mood that occasionally slips into outright bitchiness. It feels like we are eavesdropping on conversations in a wine bar late in the evening but one in which the patrons have no interest in going home. It is not until well into the second act there is any effort to tie up the plot threads. The leisurely pacing limits the development of any drama or excitement.

Blake’s dialogue is bracing and funny. Speculation on the extent to which Chrissie has used Botox leads to the remark that her face has attracted many pricks. The script gives the audience tantalising glimpses into the lifestyles of the famous but makes it very hard to sympathise with characters complaining because they are not as rich as they were in the past. None of them shows any real moral sense—if one is aware a friend has a drink problem, it is insensitive to keep giving them alcohol.

The Thunder Girls is a crowd-pleaser but at The Lowry the majority of the audience seemed to have been attracted by the chance to see in the flesh actors with whom they were familiar from television. If the play is to attract a wider audience, it might require some revisions to satisfy those people who are not already fans of the cast and so predisposed to like the play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham