Julia Banim Reviews ‘Shake it Up Baby’ By Suzan Holder. Directed By Gina T Frost 17th-19th September 2015 @ 3MT Manchester

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As ever at the Three Minute Theatre, the production was spot on and special care was given to setting an atmospheric scene down to the last detail. Opening the play was ridiculously talented Liverpool based acoustic duo The Witty Featherstones who got everyone into the jiving spirit through a series of fun 60’s covers. Their strong clear vocals and to the millisecond perfect guitar playing ensured that they carried of some of the trickier belters of this period with precision. Particularly notable was a soaring rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street’. There is nothing like an energetic live performance to remind you of the emotional pull of music, or indeed an era of music.

Romantic Bev is brought to life by Lynn Touill with compelling likeability. Touill engages in a companionable monologue with the audience from the suburban setting of her front room. Bev is an utterly believable character reminiscent of the strong Liverpudlian women of Willy Russell’s iconic plays. Vulnerable and good humoured, she is given depth and humanity through Touill’s quietly powerful and very, very funny performance. It’s easy to get engrossed in her gossipy dialogue as she brews tea, chats over the phone and throws exasperated looks into the audience. However, despite being first and foremost a comedy this is a thoughtful and sensitive play at its heart. Bev’s wistful admission of the carefulness that has steered the course of her life is indeed ever so slightly heartbreaking. Many of us can relate all too well to the feeling that real life is carrying on somewhere else without us; that we are merely experiencing the faded adventures of others second hand. Throughout the play there is a strong understanding of the cultural and social significance that The Beatles still has for so many women of a certain age as a means of escapism. A carefully preserved Beatles ticket can mean ever so much more than just a piece of memorabilia and this is something that Touill conveys perfectly during her memorable performance.

Supporting Touill is a small yet solid cast. Tony Charnock plays Scott with charm and subtlety, neatly avoiding what might have been a caricatured role in a lesser actor. Debbie O’Hare is nicely cast as kindly, optimistic Echo Reporter Tanya; showing that she is more than capable of bouncing back to the stage after a four year break. Edd Bower embodies PC Green with such genuine Policeman like severity that I felt a little nervous in my seat. Shake It Up Baby does not feel like the first play of an emerging Playwright. Suzan Holder has delivered a smartly written and observant character comedy which showcases a distinctive voice. Her experience in the world of sensationalist journalism bristles just below the surface. Holder has a great knack for noticing the small details with a witty and knowing sense of humour which resonates well with the audience. Her journalistic talent for observing and chronicling the everyday absurdities of modern life is substantial. Bev’s misadventures in online dating are hysterical and timely and special credit must be given to Charnock and Bower for playing her various love interests with hilarity and energy.

There needs to be more stories about the Bev’s of the world. More plays that laugh with rather than laugh at ordinary northern women. I look forward to seeing more one liners and
warmth from the pen of Suzan Holder in the future.

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