This sprawling five-hander, written and performed by Yasmin Wilde, shines a glorious glitterball light on the life of a mother rediscovering herself in midlife, after her divorce.
As Sonia (Wilde) turns 50, she loses her mum and discovers a new half-brother in Naim. They share a father who Sonia never knew, and Naim has inexplicably started to fix up the broken parts of her house.
Her acerbic mother Gloria Dukes (Janice Connolly) was a Shirley Bassey impersonator in life, who frequently appears to haunt Sonia by singing Bassey hits and then berating her. “You blossomed overnight like a bloated tampon,” she says.
“The illness made her cruel”, Sonia explains, but Gloria gives the impression she was always cruel.
Mixed in with quips and punchy-one-liners, there’s an interesting tension that develops with the light, unintended racism of her ride-or-die friend, Debs (Victoria John) who’s known her since they were seven.
The best friend dynamic is nuanced, with them giggling in the pub over the disappointment of their other halves and competing over their children’s achievements – it feels genuine, with her pal insisting she knows her inside out and yet is afraid of this new side to Sonia – her Pakistani side, that she’s just discovering. John plays her with a tone-deaf insouciance that makes her throwaway barbs, like how Sonia shouldn’t wear a scar round her head ‘because it looks like a hijab’ faintly chilling.
The fussy set by Libby Watson successfully serves as Sonia’s house, which she shares with her daughter Jade (wonderfully tempestuous Nikhita Lesler) and also the dingy pubs of Saffron Walden where her mother used to perform her tribute act. There’s pink and turquoise wallpaper with birds on it, stairs and a mini revolve that is both a minibar and it turns to reveal a sparkly raffia-curtained stage and a twinkly Albee the keyboardist (Miles Russell – the actual music director).
There’s almost too much packed into the dynamics of this show; it explores intergenerational attitudes to ethnicity, with Sonia telling her moody teenage daughter that she’s “practically white,” while also being upset when her friend says she’d “pass for white” and explores Sonia’s own conflicted feelings about feeling ashamed of her mixed-race heritage as a child. But, like the set, there’s sometimes too much clutter in the script to really appreciate the essential story here. Of course, a play doesn’t have to be about just one thing – but some pruning would help.
The finale features an original song by Wilde and her voice is incredible, but as she sings duets with her mother throughout it would have been good to have heard her more as the lead rather than occasionally harmonising.
I could see this family dynamic working as a TV show and it would be refreshing to see a female midlife, dual-heritage coming-of-age tale on screen.
Running time: 2hrs inc. interval. Until 8 October at Riverside Studios, then Oldham Coliseum (11th – 15th Oct).
Sonia – Yasmin Wilde
Gloria – Janice Connolly
Jade – Nikhita Lesler
Naim – Simon Rivers
Debs – Victoria John
Music Director/Albee – Miles Russell
Set & Costume Designer – Libby Watson
Lighting Designer – Mark Dymock