Thursday, 28 August 2014

Theatre review: Some Girl I Used To Know

Denise van Outen's one-woman show Some Girl I Used To Know is a semi-autobiographical story of a famous woman reflecting on past loves, interspersed with balladised versions of 1980s love songs. These range from the predictable - Kim Wilde's "You Came" - to the more unlikely - Sonia's "You'll Never Stop Me From Loving You." In between big numbers van Outen plays Stephanie, a successful lingerie designer, spending a couple of hours in a hotel room between interviews to promote her new line. She's annoyed because a journalist has twigged her marriage is going through a rough patch, and in the middle of worrying about her current relationship she receives a Facebook message from her first-ever boyfriend. As she considers meeting up with him again, she reminisces about her first love and heartbreak.

The show is essentially an excuse for van Outen to showcase her big belting covers of pop classics, and these musical moments are the highlights, but the framing story takes up a lot more of the running time and leaves a lot to be desired.

Written by Terry Ronald and van Outen herself, Some Girl I Used To Know is an occasionally wryly funny look back at growing up and falling in love in the late '80s and early '90s, but more often than not it's less funny than it seems to think, and although the actress is playing up to her Essex-girl, ladette image, Stephanie's charactertisation often boils down to "honking fishwife," her reasons for having gone out with the repellent Shaun for seven years pretty vague. The sound balance is a real problem here: Often mic'd performances are too quiet compared to the musicians, but while the balance is fine for the songs, the mic stays on during the spoken sequences, blaring out far too loudly in a small theatre. van Outen is hardly a mousy performer who needs the amplification, so turning her up to eleven just makes the piece feel even more unsubtle.

At least the songs work - Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now" comes off the best from the torch-songification, while Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" plays out like a big musical theatre showstopper. van Outen's a good enough performer that the musical interludes go some way to making for an entertaining evening; but the shaky scripted element means you spend a lot of time waiting for the next of these songs to come round.

Some Girl I Used To Know by Terry Ronald and Denise van Outen is booking until the 13th of September at the Arts Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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