Theatre review: What Would Helen Mirren Do? at the Waterloo East Theatre

A divorcee examines her life through the eyes of her idol - Helen Mirren - in this uplifting comedy drama

Middle-aged supermarket checkout operator Susan is put forward for promotion and required to attend a management training course.

Amid the typical corporate hogwash of team building exercises and ice breakers dreamt up by human resources (now known as Quality People), Susan is asked to identify a role model.

Rejecting the lofty ideals of Nelson Mandela and Sir Alan Sugar, she settles on Dame Helen Mirren - and with that epiphany begins to examine her existence through the eyes of her idol.

The humour in Josie Melia’s script is juxtaposed against the reality of Susan’s rather mundane life in Oldham, as a divorcee who has fallen into a lonely and selfless existence caring for her mother and disabled son and living for contact from her daughter who is enjoying a year abroad in Portugal.

Anita Parry is fantastic in this one-woman comedy drama where she assumes the role not only of Susan, but also her demanding, critical Irish mother, her sleazy boss Steve, peppy course leader Austin Towers and grumpy, obstinate colleague “Big Jean” to brilliant comic effect. Considering that the show runs without an intermission or set changes, it is testament to Parry’s performance that she carries the script throughout.

What Would Helen Mirren Do? examines the concept of a life not lived to its full potential and while delivered tongue in cheek, the message of the power of self belief and stepping out of your comfort zone is not lost. An uplifting, feel-good play definitely worth a look.

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* What Would Helen Mirren Do? is at the Waterloo East Theatre, Brad Street, SE1, until March 25, 2012. Call 020 7928 0060 for box office.