A show called Ladies Day at the Royal Court would, you might imagine, end up in carnage. It is therefore a bit of a surprise to find out Amanda Whittington’s play was not even written with Liverpool in mind, and was first produced by Hull Royal Truck theatre in 2005. The story of four colleagues taking the day off from the fish packing factory for a day at the races, there is a lot more to it that might meet the eye.
The debut production from new Royal Court artistic director Ken Alexander, Ladies Day appeared to me to continue where Hope left off earlier in the year. Instead of going for the usual raucous, easy laughs, Ladies Day found an audience paying rapt attention as the story unfolded. More nuanced and dramatic than expected, each character was fully fleshed out and brought to life by the accomplished cast.
Close to running away with the show was Roxanne Pallett as glamorous wannabe Shelley. The former soap star impressed in the Rocky Horror Show earlier this year, but really shone in this; aside from looking absolutely stunning, her lively performance and Shelley’s dynamic in the group repeatedly perked up the whole show.
As with her turn in Christmas show Mam I’m ‘Ere, Eithne Browne was given a chance to play more than the usual dowdy mother hen and her Pearl, a happily married woman with a secret, was sympathetic and gentle. In contrast, selfless mother Jan (Lynn Francis) didn’t have quite so much to do, and bobbed along never asking for much until too much champers loosened her tongue leading to one of the comic highlights of the show.
Angela Simms (last seen on stage in Rainbow Connection at the Unity) was naive Linda, who had to work hard to make a quite gormless character the emotional core of the show, but managed to make her sweet and believable. Jack Lord played all other male roles, from a sleazy John McCririck type to an Irish jockey and factory boss.
Richard Foxton’s set design, turning the factory into Aintree, was simple and effective – much like the whole show itself. Keeping the play in its original setting of 2005 was curious, leading to an excess of Tony Christie references that felt a bit old, but using the familiar Amarillo Peter Kay march for the day-to-night montage was quite undemanding fun.
The script had been adapted for Liverpool but not overdone; it was feelgood without being in your face, and an enjoyable play about female friendships that didn’t descend into – or depend on – cliche.