Joanna Murray Smith’s Bombshells comprises a series of vignettes portraying the challenges of the modern woman, from the over-stressed young mother Meryl Davenport to the fading star Zoe Struthers. The six characters represent many different pressures on modern women and there is something to identify with for almost anyone watching this modern classic.
Dippermouth is a young theatre company in its début season, run by a group of ex-Cambridge University students, which prides itself on creating bold and accessible theatre. Certainly this is a bold and difficult play for Dippermouth to take on in its third production, and it is carried off with real skill, promising an interesting future for the company – and accessibility was made evident by the extremely positive audience reaction to the piece. Newcomer Ellie Nunn portrays all six women, and is mostly very focused and energetic, but occasionally seems to lack the stamina needed to hold the stage alone for two hours.
The first woman we meet is Meryl Davenport, a mother in despair who feels certain that every other parent is doing a better job than her. Meryl’s internal monologue is delivered with frantic energy as she rushes from task to task, attempting to spend time with her baby whilst paying the bills, doing the shopping, taking the other children to school, and trying to convince the other mothers that she is coping. This resonates well with the audience, who are able to recognise something of every parent in Meryl’s exaggerated panic. Nunn is admirably believable as this hassled, middle-class worrier, and gives a very focused performance.
Next is Tiggy, a self-confessed ‘cactophile’ who, with the help of a ridiculous slide show, delivers a speech on the merits of cacti; she draws heavily on her recent split from her unfaithful husband, Harry, in order to express the values of loyalty and stoicism. Nunn’s nervous, sympathetic portrayal is unfortunately overshadowed in places by the silliness of the PowerPoint presentation, which, despite having its merits in reducing the audience to hysterics, is perhaps not best placed where the action should be focused on the character’s emotional struggles.
The third monologue is Mary O’Donnell, a schoolgirl talent show contestant desperate to beat her arch-nemesis to the prize. Arrogantly declaring, “No one can sing and dance like me,” Mary dances awkwardly and hilariously. The non-danced sections of this monologue are often difficult in terms of balancing arrogance and nervousness, yet director Jack Gamble has picked out moments of both well, with Nunn again giving a convincing performance.
Bride-to-be Theresa is for me the most interestingly interpreted role in the piece, but this is sadly where Nunn began to lose focus. The loud brashness of the character amusingly allows the audience to imagine the huge contrasts between Theresa and her fiancé Ted, making her likeable, bubbly, and, most importantly, irritating – just as the character should be. Unfortunately, however, a mishap with costume meant that Nunn came out of character and actually told the audience that she’d forgotten where she was in the speech. After this I felt that she wasn’t ever quite in character again and struggled to hold it together for the rest of the vignette. However, it was obvious that this would normally be a very strong piece – Nunn had simply not planned for error (which was in this case an oversight).
Ageing widow Winsome was more collected, and Nunn presents the conservatism and old-fashioned-ness of the character very clearly. The writing in this monologue is in my opinion pretty unremarkable, and it is always one of the duller moments of the piece, however the animated delivery brought it to life in an engaging manner, which was once again demonstrative of the strengths of Gamble and Nunn working together.
Finally, the mid-downfall diva Zoe Struthers wants to wow us with her comeback show. In between drunken renditions of her classic hits she finds time to give the audience a blow-by-blow account of her demise and her determination to remain in the spotlight. In terms of the show itself this is a pretty unnecessary monologue, yet Gamble and Nunn breathe life into it with some strong audience interaction, in which the audience were more than willing to participate, and an increasingly dodgy alcohol-induced singing performance, which is very well-directed.
Simple sets work well in every scene that uses them, and are relatively inconspicuous in those that don’t. Everything is fairly easy to set up, which is certainly a bonus in terms of change time, and nothing detracts focus from or blocks Nunn as she is performing. A large changing room mirror highlights all of Nunn’s on-stage costume changes, showcasing the transformation that an actor undergoes in order to become a character, and highlighting the complexity and skill of this process. Costume changes tend to be a little slow and can become boring for the audience, yet they are as well-executed as possible under the circumstances and serve their dramatic function.
It takes a lot of stamina to command a stage alone for the duration of a show, and Ellie Nunn’s standing ovation was well-deserved. Although certain aspects of her performance betray her inexperience, this is a strong start to her professional career, and it will be interesting to see her progress. On the whole this is a solid production from Dippermouth, and whilst there are a few inevitable creases that need ironing out in order for the company to realise its potential, we can expect good things from this new venture.
Bombshells is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 11 January. For more information and tickets, see the Jermyn Street Theatre website.