Theatre: Get it off!
Dave Simpson's hen-night comedy may succeed in pulling in the girls but, says Paul Taylor, it's still four pouches short of `The Full Monty'
Wednesday 04 March 1998
Predating it and already into a fourth national tour, Girls' Night Out by Dave Simpson now struts into the West End clinging to the lunchbox of The Full Monty. Focusing on a northern working-class hen-night at the Feast of Flesh Club, it includes male strip routines (all choreographed by the director, Carole Todd) that, if they don't have the provincial charm of the "amateur" efforts in the hit movie, are likeably good-humoured in their self-mocking parody of swollen-headed male prowess. Men in the audience will feel far less excluded than they did at, say, Cliff Richard's Heathcliff or at the recent Women on the Verge of HRT, where the spectacle of middle-aged females rushing to the stage to touch hands and teddies with ultra-safe middle-of-the-road performers made one have doubts about the human race in general.
A camera panning over a line of humourlessly hypnotised males, a drink in one hand and an itch in the other, is the standard screen method of presenting men watching women strip. On stage and off here, the predominantly female audience gets itself going, all right, but never stops seeing the funny side.
In a rather priggish programme note, Dave Simpson reveals that he was initially slightly wary of the subject matter and told his producer that, if he were to take on the project, "the dynamics of the play wouldn't be male stripping with surround scenes as wallpaper; it would be funny, with dramatic and character developments and, hopefully, with several layers, but - most importantly of all - written from the women's point of view." It's fascinating to find that this was his intention, for what he has produced makes Are You Being Served? look as though it were scripted by George Eliot.
In addition to The Full Monty, a telling point of comparison is with Willy Russell's Stags and Hens, a 1978 play (and later film) that also homes in on a gender-split prenuptial Northern knees-up. A measure of how liberated Girls' Night Out actually is can be gauged by looking at all three works' takes on the ticklish topic of public loos, those supposed bastions of male/female exclusivity.
In The Full Monty, a woman is viewed, by a man in hiding, having a raucous stand-up slash at a urinal in the Gents of a working men's club (there being so few working men now) during an evening of Chippendales-rip-off fun. It's an emblem of how emasculated the men feel ("I tell you, when women start pissing like us, we're finished") in a film where the women hold the economic power but, ironically, the actresses get much the inferior roles.
There's a political dimension in Stags and Hens, too: here the mates of the drunken groom-to-be invade the Ladies to stop the bride-to-be from calling the wedding off. Trapped in the cruddy club with no conventional exit route, she, in turn, invades the Gents, smashes the window and escapes from a stunted life where even her female friends feel she's letting the side down. "What would happen if every woman did that, eh?" asks one of them. "Who'd be married today if we all took notice of how we feel? eh? eh?"
By contrast, the loo in the apparently limitlessly accessible strippers' changing-room in Girls' Night Out is just the place where Damien Child's amusingly dimwit hunky-novice stripper noisily achieves congress with his normally-too-busy-shopping fiancee (Nicola Jeanne), who has been aroused by unwittingly witnessing his act. He's in a highwayman's mask at the time and it's only when his posing pouch comes adrift that she recognises him. Shades of President Clinton and those allegedly distinguishing marks? No, it's because it's shaped like a banana, which gives you some idea of the standard of single entendre on offer here. Even these are explained: "Sarah - I think I'm rigid!" "She means frigid!" Oh, right.
Girls' Night Out thinks it's hip because it allows one woman to knee a chauvinist pig in the balls and another to admit to not having had an orgasm until she was 50 (with an adulterous lover). It fails to see, by and large, that the females are (from the seven-month-pregnant ninny with a whine like a burglar alarm to "Miss MFI Bargain Hunter 1998") insulting stereotypes. Even allowing for the fact that one doesn't expect the Vassar Essay Society at a working-class hen night, the brains of Simpson's female creations seem (thanks to him, not to them) to be every bit as much between their legs as are the men's. The show lands some way wide of the G-spot.
To 2 May, Victoria Palace, Victoria Street, London W1. Booking: 0171- 834 1317
Life & Style blogs
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...
£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...