Theatre Review: Ladies Down Under @ The New Vic

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credit-Andrew-Billington
credit-Andrew-Billington

Who could possibly have thought that a fish-packing factory in Hull could have produced such a lovable set of characters as appeared in Ladies’ Day and whose adventures are now followed up in Ladies Down Under?

That is what the brilliant writing from Amanda Whittington has conjured up for the many theatre-goers who have been enthralled by the countless productions – both amateur and professional – that have graced stages around the country. And patrons of the New Vic can be gratified to know that they have the privilege of seeing the cream of the crop as our four beautiful ladies – played by the same actors who charmed North Staffordshire in 2023 – set about spending some of their windfall on a fantasy trip to Australia.

The dream holiday does not get off to the best of starts. Even the idea of a 36-hour journey has Jan (Tanya Loretta-Dee) reaching for the imodium and Peari (Kate Wood) – the elder stateswoman of the quartet – is reluctant to display her group t-shirt.

However, the loud and brash Shelley (Annie Kirkman) cannot wait to display her designer-wear on the beaches and Linda (Jo Patmore) has enough naïve enthusiasm for the trip to carry the set of mismatched ladies to Sydney.

Touchdown in Oz brings more disappointment. Shelley finds that her luggage is still in Singapore and she has only the pants she is wearing – Linda’s offer to let her have a pair of her “smalls” is met with derision – and it seems that their accommodation has fallen through. Money sent to Joe (Gareth Cassidy) to rent a bijou apartment seems to have been lost as the fish-factory supervisor fails to meet them at the airport.

Shelley – hoping to be spotted by an agency that will give her the big breakthrough in the modelling business – persuades the rest of the girls to stay at a luxurious hotel but Pearl quickly tires of this and organises a camping trip to the mythical area of Uluru.

With relations between the foursome becoming fractious – after all, they may have worked together and won together but have different personalities – will the aboriginal magic work on the friendship?

Matters become more confused when Joe surprisingly arrives at the campsite alongside drifter Danny (Richard Lund) who has befriended the factory supervisor. Will Joe manage to heal the rift with Jan? What effect will Danny have on the ladies? What dreadful secret is Pearl hiding? And how will Linda react when she returns to Sydney in the midst of their Pride event?

The glorious reality is that the Direction of Marieke Audsley and the superlative performances by the cast make the onlookers really want to know the outcome. The characters are so lovingly portrayed that it makes the audience member emotionally moved and just demanding a happy ending.

Kirkman is outstanding as the lary Shelley who uses her in-your-face attitude to disguise her insecurities and she has a very engaging on-stage relationship with Wood whose characterisation of a mother hen looking after her chicks is spot on.

Patmore is just perfect as the kind-hearted but much put-upon Linda and Dee once again produces a wonderful performance as the outwardly reserved Jan who has hidden desire.

With so many strong female parts one almost feels sorry for the male members of the cast who have to play multiple parts but New Vic regular Cassidy puts in his usual highly commendable performance and newcomer Lund is a very talented addition to the company.

Throw in some excellent work from Designer Olivia du Monceau and Sound Designer Damian Coldwell and a carnival-atmosphere finale and you have an evening of entertainment that that will touch the heart and set off a gaggle of giggles.

Great as it is to follow up the adventures of our ladies from Hull, Ladies Down Under is excellent as a stand-alone play as it follows the hen party on an extended razzle that highlights the life-affirming qualities of friendship.

Like a boomerang, I hope that these ladies (and gents) return. Let’s hope the Ladies are Unleashed in 2025.

The production continues until March 30th and has a running time of approximately 2hours 10 minutes. For ticket information contact 01782 717962 or tickets@newvictheatre.co.uk