Theatre review: Shang-a-lang at the Kings Head Theatre

kings head

kings head - Credit: Archant

Mamma Mia this ain’t, unfortunately. Catherine Johnson penned this in-yer-face comedy in 1998, shortly before her ABBA musical catapulted her to fame on the global stage.

It’s about three middle-aged women harking back to their teenage years at a 70s weekend at Butlin’s – and their obsession with the Bay City Rollers.

I’d hoped to learn a bit about the Scottish pop band and listen to a bunch of their hits in Shang-a-Lang, named after their 1974 hit single. The play’s promotional materials – including a short video trailer on the King’s Head’s website – promise as much.

Instead, what we got was a bizarre, somewhat distasteful swear-a-thon, wrinkly full frontal nudity, and even a couple of white men blacking up for our enjoyment. Designed seemingly to shock at every turn, the crude jokes are unprintable in a family newspaper. There was laughter from the cramped auditorium, but of a slightly embarrassed kind.

One early gag, for example, referred to someone called “Nick the flid” – a cheap joke apparently referring to thalidomide victims. Admittedly, some in the packed audience laughed out loud, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

The problem was the writing, not the acting or the Signal Theatre Company’s production in general, which was slick and energetic. The 70s costumes and hairdos were bang on the money, as was the glitzy set. This isn’t a musical, and in fact very little attention at all was given to the music – again, unlike Mamma Mia which honours ABBA by showcasing their amazing songs.

The three leading ladies – Jackie (Kellie Batchelor), Lauren (Samantha Edmonds) and Pauline (Lisa Kay) – all came across strongly, but because of the material a bit too strong. Do not bring granny or the kids expecting something similar to Mamma Mia.

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Until 15th February 2014