With its heart in the right place and huge amounts of potential, Hot Flushes springs from a genuinely exciting place. That’s unfortunately where the excitement ends. Apart from a flash here and there of brilliance, we are in for a pretty bumpy ride at the Camden People’s Theatre.
Let’s start with the story. Lucy Bell’s writing is whimsical, image-filled and bright. The story follows Sandra (Michelle Ridings), a loyal employee of British Home Stores, as the oncoming 2015 scandal sees her pension taken away and herself invigorated into action. A chance encounter with a gutsy American, Patsy and a rather strenuous link to country music provides a hilarious and poignant exploration, diving into the cruelty of the world towards the old and the breakdown of trust of the British public. The lyrics by Lucy Bell and Charlie Coldfield and the music by Thomas Johnson and Coldfield juxtapose the Croydon setting with good Texas charm and, although not extraordinary, do string things together nicely. ‘Fortune loves a chick who shoots’ is an example of this. Thematically. this show might work very well as a film, and the creativity and talent of the writers and lyricists are very clear. But it’s what happens on stage that causes the bucking on this particular troublesome bull.
The stage is just too small for a large musical like this, with a cluttered and messy effect. The four actors try their best at multi-roling but the effect is disconcerting. A transfer to a larger theatre or a rethink on the ambitiousness of the story might be a good idea. But the confusing blocking, unimaginative lights and star-reaching is nothing in comparison to the main issue of the show. Three quarters of the cast are not vocally up for the challenge of a musical. The singing is out of tune, sadly, and although Katy Sobey (a shining light) tries her best to rescue the harmonies this has very little effect. Sobey, Coldfield and David Plimmer all play various instruments so there is clear talent within the show but vocally the experience is at points unpleasant. Ridings playing the lead breathes a neurotic and very believable air into Sandra and this is to be commended but vocally within a musical a lot hangs on the lead’s vocal ability, and this just isn’t up to scratch.
Walking out of theatre I am left disappointed and strangely frustrated. The potential for this piece to succeed in a larger setting, without the music or as a film is evident. The story resonates so much with the injustice of modern Britain, taking control of your life, and the battle of ordinary working people against the rich and corrupt and selfish, something most of us can empathise with. A menopausal woman on a revenge streak is theatrical gold and I hope, with some major changes, the genius of Bell’s story will get another (more successful) chance at life.
Hot Flushes played Camden People’s Theatre until 15 June. For more information, see the Camden People’s Theatre website.