Theatre review: Unidentified Item In The Bagging Area at the Old Red Lion

Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Jenny Ogilvie (Victoria) and Edwa

Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Jenny Ogilvie (Victoria) and Edward Wolstenholme (Gareth). Picture: Matt Howey Nunn - Credit: Archant

The opening moments of this play grab the attention by boldly staging what would normally be a very private occasion and then making a joke of it. Taken by surprise, the audience is soon rocking with laughter.

The writer, Sarah Simmonds, knows exactly how far to confront her audience with miseries, embarrassments, dilemmas, familiar to all of us, before allowing the situation to tumble into farce. She ridicules the painful situations, the ridiculous antics, of human beings while never once losing sight of how difficult, how very deep, these dilemmas are, and how unhappy people are made by them.

Post-menopausal Victoria is played with sensitivity and perfect timing by Jenny Ogilvie, who is never off stage during the whole length of the play. She is by turns foolish, irritating, self-absorbed and desperately lonely as she confronts a future without romance, without sex, without children. Over the years, she and her husband have ceased to have meaningful communications. He has retired and enjoys pottering in the garden. She feels redundant and unloved. This is, of course, a contemporary problem: in the past, most women died in childbirth or soon after and most men got re-married to someone younger and sexier.

Victoria – who, irritatingly, often seems more like a 1950s housewife than a post-women’s lib. female - seeks help from a support group, run by Anita, hilariously caricatured by Kate Russell Smith. There she meets the ebullient Meg, an independent woman who earns her living by running a sex hotline. Meg (exuberantly performed by Kate Russell Smith) proves to be a supportive friend, providing Victoria with refuge and an uproarious, if temporary, solution to her problems.

The pace of this very funny play never flags and the humour never falters, thanks to Louise Shepherd’s cutting edge direction, to the supremely talented cast and the witty and skilful dialogue. Kady Howey Nunn’s set consists of a selection of white-painted, cubes which provide a perfect neutral background, in particular during the surrealistic interludes where movement, music and lighting (Mark Dymark) suggest the subconscious thoughts and feelings of the characters - as well as contriving unusually imaginative scene-changes.

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In addition to marriage, sex, relationships, and the human plight, modern life, too, is ruthlessly satirized: the scene in the supermarket automatic checkup is unforgettable. Inevitably, the ending is somewhat contrived – real life does not provide satisfactory endings and this play is grounded in real life. Overall, this play provides an evening of hilarious entertainment, plus plenty of food for thought!

Box office: 0844 412 4307

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Until 8th November.

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