Review: 5 At 50

Irritated by women behaving badly


You should never judge a a play by its title, but there are exceptions. I was irritated by the oh-so-hip attempt to squeeze the play's name into text-speak for no very good reason. And I was irritated by the play, too.

Brad Fraser's drama is a sort of menopausal Sex and the City with five women, old friends from high school, reaching their 50th birthdays. They confront their demons, talk about rude stuff as shockingly as they can, drink lots, dabble with drugs and generally bitch about each other.

Each has their dysfunctional relationship - or lack thereof - played out with much misery, much shouting and remarkably little humour as they gather for a series of unrestrained milestone birthday parties.

Jan Ravens (best known perhaps for taking part in Strictly Come Dancing) stars as Olivia, a raucous alcoholic teetering on the brink of self-destruction. The rest of the girls rally round to get her into rehab - the main plotline of the play - as they battle addictions of their own.

Teresa Banham plays Norma, Olivia's long-term lesbian lover, a paediatrician with a penchant for cocaine, and addicted to Olivia as her "co-dependent enabler". She selfishly finds Olivia more fun drunk than sober and tempts her back to booze.

Loreen (Candida Gubbins) has abandoned her three children because she is a rubbish mum and has hooked up with a gay man who wants a family. Fern (Barbara Barnes) is unfeasibly thin, does lots of yoga and appears to have a rock-solid marriage. Tricia (Ingrid Lacey) is a newspaper columnist with uncontrollable appetites for men, and the drugs that ease her back pain.

But the women's various plights fail to move. I never really cared whether Olivia beat her addiction or ended up in the gutter. Some of the drama looked full of emotion or sounded full of emotion, but it did not really feel like it.

There are occasional chuckle moments but the dialogue is flat and stilted, and not helped by the American accents.

And it is not too busy in the dramatic tension department either - the structure of five women each having a big birthday tending towards predictability.

Fraser - one of Canada's most widely produced playwrights - has a long association with the Royal Exchange and wrote 5@50 to address the lack of roles for women of that age, and to examine addiction as a theme. Director Braham Murray keeps up a fast pace in this world premiere, with lots of quick, bitty, scenes, but in the end it does not hold together.

And it was not just me - there were a few empty seats after the interval.

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