Starring Leslie Ash and Brooke Kinsella, All the Single Ladies follows the lives of three women with very different histories and outlooks on men.
At one end of the spectrum there is Liz; seven times married and divorced with an appreciation of sex, material things and her freedom. Then there is Orla, a rather desperate character who has been pandering to a man she’s lived with for eleven years with the agreement that he occasionally sleeps with her (amid his other regular flings). We then have Alison, a young and recently widowed squaddy’s wife with swearing children.
The set design is the interior of a house broken up into three sections from where the women monologue their experiences, with the aim of being first and foremost a comedy with heart-warming and poignant moments thrown in.
For me, All the Single Ladies fails on both counts. The comedic aspect, with much of its focus around sex, was trite and unimaginative. There were several jokes made about eating disorders, disabilities, homosexuality and race. OK, I am not one to rule out jokes about taboo subjects but they have at least to be done intelligently and with integrity – these weren’t. An example would be Liz, who has lesbian neighbours tells us that they popped around to bring her some cake; “Well I didn’t know lesbians could bake.” Is it me or is that not just dated, unimaginative and annoying? (Consequently, this received a lot of laughs from the audience). Or perhaps when Orla talks about a wannabe model that she meets outside of a mental health clinic and they discuss their modelling credentials “Well can you say cheese? I doubt it, you certainly can’t eat it!”
The ‘poignant’ moments are even more tedious. We are subjected to a diatribe about the subjectivity of beauty and positive body image (peppered with jeers at those who struggle with it) that doesn’t really go anywhere or state anything. Alison (the army widow) could have had the potential to be interesting, though the play lacked so much in character development that actually, what could have turned out to be an interesting and heart warming comic performance actually ended up being a rather classist representation of an army widow saying the same thing on repeat for an hour and half.
Orla was perhaps the most sweeping and stereotypical character of the lot. She drank too much, she had no friends, she never went out and rather just stayed in waiting for her flatmate come lover to come home, creating fake social networking profiles so she can catch him out, and has been doing so for eleven years – perhaps one of the most damning representations of single women I have seen on stage. Admittedly, she seems to drunkenly change her life around in the last five minutes of the play, at which point the damage has already been done.
I tried; really I did, to like All the Single Ladies. I tried to take a step back and just to take it for what it was – light hearted entertainment trying to make no statements about gender roles in modern society. Even then the comedy was still dated, with an air of Kenneth Williams that it couldn’t shake off. It was also pretty boring, unoriginal and unimaginative. There is no plot, no character development and we do not really see these women change or grow in any particular way from beginning to end. I had been hopeful for a turnaround throughout as, due to the nature of the three separate narratives, the play had the opportunity to merge these three lives together at the end of the play quite nicely and cleverly. It didn’t.
The acting itself wasn’t so bad. Comedienne Tara Flynn did well to inject comic timing and delivery to a trying script, Brooke Kinsella’s Yorkshire accent was passable and Leslie Ash played the role of a middle aged woman who had had a lot of work done with an uncanny familiarity. (Before you cry hypocrite, that last bit is an example of how to make a joke on a taboo subject.)
It is important to point out that the play did get a lot of laughs from the audience and seemed to be well received as a whole, just unfortunately, not by me.
Words by @Kirsty_hulse