Botox Or Bust is a brand-new musical comedy, written by local Bournemouth-based playwright, lyricist and composer Lisa Gaye Wright, which strives to explore society’s obsession with ageing and its chase for the elusive fountain of youth in a never-ending battle to stave off wrinkles and grey hair. In an all-female production, the focus is on Madeline Green (Jo Mansfield), a newly divorced, recently turned 50 year old who will go to any lengths to fend off the visible effects of middle age.
Madeline (Jo Mansfield) has clearly been influenced sartorially by Bet Lynch and Sandy Olsson, with Mansfield giving a committed and spirited edge to her role. Beverley Beck is delightfully acerbic as haughty and pompous Magenta, while the two Francescas (Kingsbury and Mansfield) are genuinely hilarious as the brash duo, Sophia and Tamsin, even though they are obviously too young legally to have daughters old enough to be performing on adult TV talent shows!
Claire Smith (Carol) and Rebecca Davis (Roisin) give the most comprehensive performances, with the most fully formed characters and excellent interaction between each other and the other actors; Smith, in particular, is always fully focused and actively listening, with natural, believable and subtle facial expressions and super comic timing.
Encore! Theatre Productions’ opening night was, in fact, the premiere performance of this satirical musical – which has made it much harder for me to write. In the promotional write-up, it is stated that this musical started as a one-woman show and has been expanded into a fully staged musical – and that, for me, is the crux of my uneasiness with the show: it felt like it had the beginnings of an excellent musical comedy, but with a need to be further developed. Although the lyrics in the songs are witty, sharp and pithy with challenging musical intervals and rhythms (especially during speak-singing, which is so hard to get right), they don’t really seem to flow with the dialogue. This wasn’t helped by the actors breaking from interacting with each other to come to the front of the stage and sing out to the audience (X-Factor or concert style) so that instead of the songs being an integral part of the narrative flow, they seemed more to be almost an interruption to the storyline and I found myself regularly thinking that this might work better as a comic play, not musical, something more in the style of a play such as Steel Magnolias.
However, having said that, there are lots of things to enjoy in the performances. Comic timing is mostly very good, although there is a fine balance to keeping up a good pace and lines being lost under audience laughter. For the majority of the songs, diction is excellent and lyrics are clearly delivered with great timing and rhythm, even if not always pitch-perfect. The live piano accompaniment from MD Alastair Hume is delightful and is the ideal musical garnish in this case.
New professional productions will often have preview shows before they commence a ‘proper’ run, where there is a period of tweaking the shows’ contents or staging elements prior to its opening ‘for real’ and it seems to me that this show would benefit from that. For a sparkling new comedy, it seems rather confused, dated and jaded, not helped by incongruous lighting effects (where the back of the stage or proscenium arch are fully lit, but the actors’ faces are in almost complete darkness) and passé pop culture references. In the programme notes, director Laura Ward wanted to honour the repertoire theatre quality of Morecombe and Wise, French and Saunders and Victoria Wood; there are indeed elements of that evident in the production, but performances from these comic greats were never confused and always cohesive, and that clarity of intent and focus was lacking for me on opening night.
Viewing a show is always going to be subjective and different people will take away different things from the same show; a review of live theatre is one person’s opinion of one performance, not even one production, and I am aware that the audience around me seemed to be loving the show, perhaps finding that connection that was eluding me. For me, however, the show’s not a total bust but needs further nurturing and development to blossom into a perennial joy and I would be intrigued to see it performed again in the future.