King's Theatre, Edinburgh
The stream of 1980s hen night classics that form the pre-show fanfare for Denise Van Outen's solo turn in her new play co-written with Terry Ronald may be telling about what follows, but this is no dancing-in-the-aisles gin-fest. There's something endearing about Van Outen's portrait of Essex girl made good Stephanie as she seeks sanctuary in her posh hotel room following the launch of her latest fancy underwear range. As she confides in the audience like we're all having a girly chat, something vulnerable emerges beyond Samantha's brassy front, especially when her long lost first love gives her a virtual poke on Facebook.
What follows in Michael Howcroft's production openly acknowledges its debt to Shirley Valentine,Willy Russell's monologue by a similar woman of a certain age on the verge of temptation. Things have moved on, however, for women like Stephanie, and there's a kind of trickle-down feminism at play here, despite the designer labels and celebrity name-drops.
Van Outen, Ronald and musical arranger Steve Anderson are so steeped in the pop culture that sired them that this feels at times like dispatches from the front-line of the Heat magazine massive. Despite this, Van Outen holds the stage for almost two hours of fictional confessional punctuated by renditions of songs by Culture Club, Soft Cell and even Sonia. If the show isn't up there with its inspiration in terms of writing, Van Outen remains an impressively gutsy presence for a largely female audience, who might well look to her for inspiration to get back in touch with the girl within and remind themselves who they are.
The Herald, March 14th 2014