Realising you aren’t 20 anymore, that you will never be young again, and that you are hitting the big 4-0 is something most people will describe as a nightmare. A reminder that the age you feel inside is not the same as the number you’ll be labelled as is depressing.
For Pauline, the big number is a reminder she is still without kids, husband and a happy ending. As an attempt to relive the good old teenage years she goes to Butlins with best friend Jackie for a ’70s weekend that should take them back to happier times. But as the two friends are joined by loose tag-a-long Lauren, waiting for the Bay City Rollers to take them back in time, the three women realise that though they feel the same inside, time has changed them and their lives are far from what they imagined them to be.
Catherine Johnson, best known as the writer of the musical and film Mamma Mia!, explores the tragedy of growing up in Shang-a-Lang, a naughty, bad-ass version of the Mamma Mia! trio with adults losing it and trying to divert themselves from the train wreck of midlife crisis. Johnson’s writing is clever, funny and like a flashing energy ball, but it’s the cast’s three ballsy women who drive the piece full speed. Losing (it to put it mildly), Lisa Kay, Kellie Batchelor and Samantha Edmonds create a dysfunctional trio you can’t help but love, even if it feels slightly wrong at times. They are selfish, whiney, out-of-control and so real and vulnerable that you have to applaud the actresses for their bravery showing real women with depth, imperfections and humour. Their male counterparts are a great support, but it is very clearly the women who run this piece, and how liberating that is.
Robert Wolstenholme’s direction is clear, and the audience interaction creates a natural openness and sense of fun. It brings us closer to the characters and their story as if we’ve been invited into their room by special invitation. Christopher Hone’s design cleverly morphs to support and simplify the space; the set is very ’70s and creates a real sense of nostalgia together with the ridiculous Abba-inspired outfits. Although Johnson’s writing has depth, it still has the undertones of a darker Mamma Mia! and the audience target does seem to be aimed at an older bracket. But even if you have no clue yet how it feels to turn 40, have no kids of your own and weren’t born to experience the ’70s, then Shang-a-Lang is still good fun. Treat your parents to a night in the theatre, they will thank you.
Shang-a-Lang is playing at King’s Head Theatre until 15 February.