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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!



PHLC Productions presents

The Primrose Hill Ladies Club


Benjamin Way (Gloria) in The Primrose Hill Ladies Club
Photo David Cook


By Bern Bowers


Directed by Gary Wright


Courtyard Theatre – Studio


3 May  - 4 June 2011


Owned and meticulously run by Frau Mili Herschel (Kevin Potton), or “Aunt Mili” as her girls affectionately call her, The Primrose Hill Ladies Club is a safe haven for expression and escape through cross-dressing. Set in London in the late 1960’s, the play explores the impetus and efforts behind this pursuit through focusing on the adventures and stories of three of Mili’s foremost clients. The stage is lavishly adorned and accommodating. A luxurious chaise longue is the central feature and clothes, wigs, decanters and an assortment of heels are dotted about, promising action right from the dimly lit and atmospheric opening scene. A side table containing pictures of a smart gentleman and some personal items are an initial indication of the more private issues which will be explored. The play opens with a melancholy tune sung in German by Mili, serious and contemplative. as she steadfastly remains throughout the play. The action is punctuated with similar serene moments of song throughout, providing contrast to some of the more boisterous scenes.

Victoria Barker is convincing as the unwitting and idealistic Marvin, newly recruited driver and assistant to Mili, but she later excels in the role of Megan, the brilliantly attired and easily befuddled fiancée of Rick (Benjamin Way). Megan is a “blonde bombshell” who could, and perhaps will, contend with Rick’s not dissimilar alter-ego Gloria. The most uproarious moments in the play revolve around Gloria, whose storytelling skills are unparalleled; her insistence on relaying events “the only way I know how” is a recipe for hilarity. Outrageous and gregarious, Gloria is the absolute show stopper and as both Gloria and Rick, Benjamin Way is inspired. As the action progresses, Mili welcomes her newest recruit, Jonathan (Jonathan Laury). Initially timid and somewhat reluctant, he is soon christened Kitty and freed from his religious constraints for exploration with the obviously experienced Gloria as a driving force. Detective Christie (Matthew Ward) embodies the curious but hostile world of the Everyman, while Rick is in love with himself, Detective Christie is afraid of himself and fears, most of all, the liberty that The Primrose Hill Ladies Club offers, with alarming consequences.

Bern Bowers has created some wonderful characters that “dare to be different” and the sincerity of all the performances in The Primrose Hill Ladies Club are highly commendable. Mili’s guests’ fundamental personality traits are not distorted when they transform, literally before the audience’s eyes, into their female alter-egos. Rather, their personalities are enhanced, suggesting that the club serves to facilitate escape from social constraints rather than escape from oneself. Rick and Gloria are as extroverted as each other, just as Rog (Dan Styles) and Vera are both reserved and considered. The difference lies in the fact that dressed as women these traits can be expressed more overtly as first impressions, something the uniforms of their respective professions does not allow. This is convincingly portrayed by each of the actors. Early in the play Mili explains to a curious Malin; “shoes show the emotion of an individual”, and The Primrose Hill Ladies Club is an interesting exploration of this relationship between masks and expression, appearance and emotion.



Box Office: 0844 477 1000
 Courtyard Theatre
Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street
N1 6EU
Tickets: £15, £12 conc (Limited reserved seating £19)

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