Review: Bombshells, East Riding Theatre

In many ways, Joanna Murray Smith’s 2004 play is due a revival in 2020. It’s a one woman play covering several women at moments of crisis in their lives. At a time of rediscovery of female-led narratives, it has never been more pertinent onstage. She Productions has been championing onstage work like this in the North of England for years.

Throughout the play we experience six delicately interlinked monologues performed by Alice Rose Palmer. We see her play a mother of three young children, a recently divorced woman, a teenager ousted at a school talent show, a jittery bride, a widow and an American singer. Palmer navigates each character brilliantly. All are clearly defined and vigorously performed, with the exception of a couple of barely noticeable stumbles.

Director, Becky Hope-Palmer, has also excelled by varying the staging of each monologue considerably. With little more than chairs and a couple of props, a  clear sense of place has been drawn more from Palmer’s physicality than from any truly figurative set. It is clever and serves the writing well. Hope-Palmer has also integrated music so entirely that it becomes a character in its own right at points in the play.

Unfortunately, the production is hampered by some serious fumbles. Most noticeably some incredibly long scene changes to allow Palmer to change costume. While the show is well costumed, I feel the audience turn their attention elsewhere as the stage is left empty for minutes at a time. It is often difficult for Palmer to recapture the audience’s attention when reclaiming the stage for the beginning of the next monologue. It greatly slows down the show’s pacing.

The play’s comedy is also a bit one note for me. Smith’s moments of crises are engaging but the constant air of panic is a little jarring. The challenge of any one person show, especially a full length one such as this, is to never allow it to be boring or samey. Bombshells fails at this in that the similarity in tone is occasionally too much. 

Nonetheless, She Productions have produced a thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre. Hope-Palmer’s staging is deft and Palmer’s performance entirely convincing. It occasionally has its audience squealing with laughter and the widow sequence in the second act is at points witty and moving. A few tweaks to its pacing, and it will be spectacular.

Bombshells is playing the East Riding Theatre until 1 February. For more information and tickets, visit the East Riding Theatre website.