(Rated 4/5 )
This year and next year I get to see two of my teenagehood heroes on stage...
The first – Sharon Gless – who played Christine Cagney in Cagney and Lacey.
The second – next year – Tyne Daly – who played MaryBeth Lacey.
On the surface of things the show was one of many cop shows in the 70s and 80s. But delving deeper it was ever so much more. Yes there were the standard cops chasing robbers and other criminals and a case to solve every episode, but what made it revolutionary was we saw these women in their private lives and how their work impacted on their lives. It explored the relationship between these two very different women; one single and sassy and the other very much the family woman. Christine’s sassiness covered an emotional vulnerability, which she protected at all costs, and an attempt to match up to and for her father. MaryBeth’s emotional strength was constantly tested by her family situation – being a good mother was her priority and she did such an excellent job - and health issues… and even, and perhaps especially, in relationship with her work partner. And that was the crux of what made the show so special. It wasn’t afraid to explore the complexities of these two women’s lives with wit, humour and also heart-rending drama. It tested Sharon and Tyne’s acting skills and won them multitudes of awards and the love of many viewers. Huge credit to Exec Producer Barney Rosenzweig and all the writers too… phenomenal!
And so I readily admit Sharon, rather than the play, was the immediate draw for me. But, as it turned out, the play was also interesting, fun, emotional and again – something I love – has a truth about it because it is based on the real life experiences of a lovely, brave woman, Jane Juska. She posted an advert in New York Review of Books:
“BEFORE I TURN 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.
If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
And so the stage is set for Jane’s adventures in men, sex and her journey through resolving her underlying emotional issues related to difficult relationships with her husband and son.
And in that stage setting, all scenes take place within the same area, incorporating and doubling up to be Jane’s bedroom, living-room, a nightclub, cafes in which she meets men, her outside postbox, a library, hotel-room etc etc… and all believable with just slight adaptations by Sharon or her fellow cast members. We know exactly where we are meant to be from their acting and changes in dress. Sharon makes all her dress changes on set. The others off – but they have even more changes to create; each of the five of them, (two women and three men), play at least three characters each. Most impressive in this regard was Michael Thompson, playing the youngest of Jane’s suitors and her son. He convincingly switched from one character to another in seconds and made them each so individual. Beth Cordingly, playing one of Jane’s friends and Miss MacKenzie; a character from a beloved Trollope novel of Jane’s, is also worthy of mention. Indeed all performers were good; Barry McCarthy and Neil McCaul as many of Jane’s sex interests and Jane Bertish as her friend and mother.
Sharon herself, was a total delight as Jane Juska. As the lights go up at the start of the play we see her pleasuring herself as she lies on her bed during a phonecall with one of the men. She carries this out with ease, and though pretends alarm when she notices all of us watching, seems totally comfortable with all the antics her character gets up to on stage. In fact, the wit, the recognisable Gless Glint in her eyes, the highly charged emotion and the fun she gave to Christine Cagney are all so apparent again in this role, whilst still being a quite a different portrayal. I love how Sharon generously gives of herself to her acting. Personally I feel that brings out the best in any performance.
And that relaxed open attitude is also what comes across in spades when you meet her in person. Luckily my friend and I had noticed where this was earlier, when Sharon was there with others. It is not labeled as a stage door! It was a long wait for her after the show. I’m used to the rapid exitings of the likes of those currently in the spotlight glare of the great success of their recent shows and fame. We were told by a waiting fan that Sharon had to remove her eyes! Actually contacts of course – out she came in large black-rimmed glasses. I was still expecting to only have a little time with her, so did my best to overcome the nerves of meeting a childhood heroine and role-model, and moved forward for my moment. She happily autographed my programme – only costing a pound, as one of the ushers proudly told me ‘The cheapest in London’ - and then I asked if I could have a photo with her. I was still feeling I must be quick and not take up too much of her time. As usual though, my camera decided otherwise. People new to it always experience a difficulty in pressing the shutter button to the right extent, which has delayed the taking of pictures and increased my time with my heroes, as well as often creating funny expressions on their faces! This time it ran out of memory and my friend had to hand it back to me for me to delete some shots. She later told me it would have been great to film Sharon and my interaction as we both studied the photos and I decided what could be sacrificed! In the end I found one – won’t even admit what it was ;) – and we got a picture together of me with a massive smile on my face hugging Sharon with a dubious look on hers. I imagine she was wondering if it would take. Following our success, Sharon went up to my friend, gave her a very firm handshake and said, with a hint of a question in her tone, ‘You’re the friend.’ (At the time I confess I was completely unaware of the significance of this. The audience had been full of lesbian women and so ‘her friend’/my friend could imply more than simply friendship. In reality she was probably referring to something I said to her before about my friend with the camera but I just don’t remember in the hazy memory fog that descends on me when I meet my heroes.) I moved away for others to have a turn but realised there was time and space for everyone and Sharon seemed happy to chat for as long as we liked. Another fan asked for a photo with her and said she was scared – Sharon told her not to be. She cheerily talked about it being the 30th anniversary of Cagney and Lacey and how Tyne would also be bringing her play to London. And that we’d been a lovely audience. Then it was time for Sharon to have something to eat and I grabbed another moment. I hugged her – still amazed at how long that was possible for – and told her how much I enjoyed and loved Cagney and Lacey and thanked her for her part in it.
P.S. Riverside Studios is accessible to the disabled, however, if you are going by tube – I imagine the same is true for the bus – it is a longish walk and not that easy to find. It is worth arriving early to get the seat of your choice; there are no prior allocations. If you want to eat there, booking in advance seems to be a good idea – the restaurant and bar were both fully booked that night. Unfortunately after a while I found my seat uncomfortable – I had problems with pain in my thigh – though I am not sure if the culprit was the seat or me. But it has a lovely simple stage and auditorium – a blank canvass for the actors’ and audience’s imaginations.
A Round-Heeled Woman – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011