Sarah Blake tries to keep it together whilst watching UCL Musical Theatre Society’s latest performance.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is, as the title suggests, about a group of women who are all reaching the end of their tether for various reasons. It is set over 48 hours during which we see a lot of hysteria, proclamations of love and one or two women who are well and truly nervously breaking down. What isn’t so obvious from the title, is quite how funny the play is. UCLU Musical Theatre society pull off both the emotional, touching aspects and the comedic elements with their usual enthusiasm.
The musical starts with a lively solo sang by the omniscient, mambo-loving taxi driver (Abel Law). The confusion and excitement of the buzzing city come across in this opening scene, as all cast members enter and leave the stage in quick succession to a soundtrack of jazzy, Latin style music. The spotlight shines effectively on each character to introduce them to the audience before the cast members dance together. This routine puts the audience in good spirits from the get-go, if also demonstrating that some of the cast members were chosen more for their singing and acting skills than for their samba-hips.
The stunning duet shortly after this, changes the tone dramatically and the raw emotion of the scene is excellently portrayed by the principal character of Pepa (Catrin Harris) and her sort of ex-boyfriend Ivan (Simon Whitaker). The Spanish accents that are well sustained throughout most of the dialogue are sometimes lost in the singing, but the high quality of sound coming from every soloist detracts from these accent-slips. During the first act, I thought that the music was being played from a backing track. At the interval, however, I was informed that it was actually being performed by a live band down the corridor, with cameras connecting the room to the main stage. Credits go to the show’s musical director Natalie Pound for putting together such a professional sound that never misses a beat.
The themes of the musical, which include abandonment, attempted suicide and international terrorism, do not evoke ideas of a laugh-out-loud comedy, but the comic aspects in each and every scene do have the audience laughing throughout the evening. Moments that particularly stand out are Candela’s (Lizzie Miesenboeck) hilarious 100 mile an hour rendition of “Model Behaviour” and the scene in which the taxi driver joins in crying with Pepa when she breaks down in his car. Another stand out moment is the song “Tangled” near the end of the musical, which demonstrates the strength of the voices of the whole cast.
The assistant director and choreographer, Louise Farnall, informed us that the cast had only started rehearsals three weeks before the first performance. The audience were not able to guess at this at all. I always have high expectations of the Musical Theatre society, and they were especially high for this performance after seeing people pleading for spare tickets on social media, a few days before the opening night. My expectations were not let down and, if it were not completely sold out for its two other nights, I would definitely recommend going to see it.
Featured Image Credit: Danté Kim