Bombshells, Assembly Rooms

Women on the verge of an explosion
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The Independent Culture

Women approaching life's milestones at full speed - looking wryly back on misspent youths or wrong paths chosen - is a theme of a surprising number of Fringe shows I've seen this year. Is it me, or is it them? The characters and the situations in which they knowingly or, more often, unknowingly, find themselves, certainly touch a raw nerve while drawing gales of laughter from all those who recognise what Caroline O'Connor describes, in her brilliant solo show, as the "bombshells" that explode in women's lives.

Women approaching life's milestones at full speed - looking wryly back on misspent youths or wrong paths chosen - is a theme of a surprising number of Fringe shows I've seen this year. Is it me, or is it them? The characters and the situations in which they knowingly or, more often, unknowingly, find themselves, certainly touch a raw nerve while drawing gales of laughter from all those who recognise what Caroline O'Connor describes, in her brilliant solo show, as the "bombshells" that explode in women's lives.

Bombshells was written for the astonishingly virtuosic O'Connor by the Australian playwright, Joanna Murray-Smith. Though the writing sparkles with wit and perceptiveness, it's O'Connor's energy and the uncanny way she seamlessly transforms herself from stage-struck teenager to mixed-up bride to frazzled mum that makes the show so entertaining. In the snapshot of the widow whose boring life is dramatically changed by an unexpected encounter, there's an unmistakeable echo of the dark wit of an Alan Bennett monologue.

In a perceptive new solo show-with-songs by Jonathan Harvey, directed by Susan Tully, Charlie Hart has a life crisis account that is well into the red. Harvey's catalogue of Charlie's embarrassments and foundering relationships will appeal to anyone, except perhaps any gay vets that happen to stray in. Abi Roberts gets under the skin of cheerful Charlie who, under the surface of the movie version of her life that she constantly reruns, is bitter about the father who walked out of her life and suspicious of her internet-obsessed husband, who may be cheating on her with the sister of whom she's always been jealous. If few of us have plunged to quite the depths of Charlie's dependence on drink, drugs and the cultural icons of the last 20 years, it does not make her confusion any less affecting.

In The Andy Warhol Syndrome, a play that Jenny Eclair has co-written with Julie Balloo, Eclair explores the devastating effect that 15 minutes of fame can have on a woman's life. She gives a compelling performance as Carol Fletcher, snatched from gritty northern town life and jettisoned into the spotlight as a TV celebrity. The next thing she knows she's stranded back at her mother's after being set up by a dodgy barman, dumped on by the tabloids, dropped by her carpet-fitting husband and neglected by her sleazy agent. No diamonds, minks and pearls for this little girl who only wanted to grow up like Renie Marguerite - Showgirl Extraordinaire. But with the dawning of just how extraordinary Marguerite is comes the bitter twist at the end of this sobering but cruelly funny tale.

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