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Friday, 15 April 2011

Brad Fraser's 5@50 at The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Any husband who expresses an interest in attending a theatrical production is, naturally, to be cherished. Mr Liz is a long-term fan of a Canadian playwright named Brad Fraser, an admiration born in 1995 - or the dark, pre-Liz days as I prefer to call this sorry period - when he went to see Andy Serkis and Beth's-lesbian-lover-off-Brookside (his cast list, not mine) in something called Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love (can't imagine how I managed to let such a gem pass me by, but he swears that it's the best serial killer comedy EVER...)

Since then, Fraser has built a mutually-loving relationship with Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre - his latest play, 5@50, is the seventh of his plays to be staged here, with the world premiere two nights ago. I'm not the biggest fan of his work, but am happy to encourage any husband-preference that results in a theatre trip rather than an evening involving opening some cans of lager and watching a United match, so we went to see it last night. The fact that any trip to the Royal Exchange does also, by law, include a couple of Amaretto Sours and a cheeseburger at Grinch first is, of course, completely by-the-by - culture comes first here, and is naturally my sole concern.

*dreams for a moment about the sheer perfection of the Grinch cheeseburger, cooked perfectly pink and served with fries and pickles*

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, 5@50. The name refers to a group of five female friends, four of whom are approaching a certain landmark birthday. They have been friends since school, but cracks are beginning to show in their relationships - the play begins with one of them, Olivia, getting spectacularly drunk at her own birthday party, sparking a chain of events that will test the friendships even further. Old resentments begin to emerge, and before long accusations are flying and a lot of things are said that can never be taken back.

Cue lots of shouting, squawking and general female-angst - Fraser is known as a comic writer, and if the reaction of the women sitting next to me is anything to go by, this play is particularly funny if you are yourself a 50-something woman. That's not to say it isn't funny if you're NOT a 50-something woman, but if you're an innocent young man there may be much here to shock you - think a post-menopause Sex and the City fuelled by copious amounts of vodka and you'll be along the right lines.

Of course, part of the fun of going to the theatre is checking the programme to see how many of the actors have been in The Bill and/or Casualty; we certainly weren't disappointed on this score, and Mr Liz, having done some extensive research during his busy working day, confidently informed me that the most famous cast member was Ingrid Lacey who - wait for it - replaced Haydn Gwynne as the object of lust for sad randy George in Drop the Dead Donkey.

He was wrong though, for he had overlooked that drunk old Olivia was played by Jan Ravens, a woman stunningly famous to anyone who grew up in the 1980s - she featured in ALL the programmes that I used to secretly watch on my rubbish portable TV when my parents thought I was soundly asleep and dreaming of ponies and sewing: Spitting Image, Whose Line is it Anyway, Carrott's Lib and countless other quality shows.

Actually, all the cast were good, once you got used to the American accents, and the staging - as ever at The Exchange - was excellent, with tables, chairs and other props seamlessly appearing and disappearing from the ceiling as and when required. The play runs until 14th May 2011, and is well worth a visit if you get the chance - full details on the website. Just make sure to write in the Amaretto Sour clause before you sign up...

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