Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Not a Well Woman written by Katy Manning and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Freefall with Pansy Maude! From Hollywood parties to African huts and beyond... Extremely visually challenged, Pansy’s quirky view of life is possibly tinged by the way she sees it - or not as the case may be. Pansy is free thinking, foolish, fearless, feisty and fabulous, but she is wrapped in a sunny world of soft edges and clouds of smiling colours, as she ventures into the dark shadows of menace, violence and self destruction. Why not suck it and see?

Precious Pansy: What a complete waste of time living in this world and not being able to see – what an awesome way to tell an audio story through the eyes of somebody who does see as well as the rest of us, a truly sensory experience. Always managed to avoid parties, even as a child but now they are a regular occurrence in her life. Was given enormous glasses when she was younger, so huge they had to be taped to her head and she could just about see albeit through a sheet of glass. Pansy instinctively learns to make up for what she doesn’t have. Imagine looking at your babies and not being able to see them, that’s heartbreaking. If you can’t see or hold your children the only connection you can make is to name them. Much to her twin’s relief she didn’t name them after her favourite football team – Aston Villa! Pansy wants to work because she knows her work but she doesn’t know her children – she can’t make herself feel something for the children that are held at a distance. Tears and hopelessness wont make her a better mother – I love how real Pansy is, saying the things that other women don’t dare to say in fear of being judged. Posthumously her father received the Order of the British Empire. Pansy took part in a controversial play that got her letters of hate, letters of congratulation and even the odd date – it surprised the shit out of everybody! Politely asked to leave every school in London, pushed on to more appropriate places of education who would be more receptive to her literary idiosyncrasies. Oddly enough during her car accident the only part of her that remained unscathed was her eyes, her thick black glasses saw to that. Pansy’s hormone fuelled pregnancy is brought to life with terrifying honesty – this can only be written by somebody who has been through the torrent of emotions pregnancy can bring! You have to cheer when Pansy is accosted by Austen who wants to have her – she tells him to fuck off! Pansy feels somewhat intangible once she has let her children go.

Captivating Katy: What a tour de force for Katy Manning – playing an array of superb characters and since she has written and preformed this piece you genuinely feel she is inside the heads of these characters. When she said she had a whole lot more voices inside her head during the extras of Find and Replace she was not wrong. Pansy has a squeaky voice, similar to her Jo Grant; she adopts a 20-a-day accent for the lingerie shop owner, a very cute 4-year-old Pansy and the afro-Caribbean accent for the woman she assumes is her mother, a Scottish Doctor, gruff Rodney the bastard lover, a French ballet teacher, Irish perverts, the butch fella working in the coffee adverts, the stiff upper lipped fabulous Mrs Cope, Joycie’s African accent, the pompous British Airways intercom voice (my God that is so accurate!), the Captain, the drugged up Pansy is genuinely terrifying, playing two characters in a farcical play, Kenny the Australian nanny, horn ball Austen – all the voices coming together at the end is hugely schizophrenic experience. What an amazing acting experience.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Welcome to trashy lingerie!’
‘When you can’t see anybody can be your mummy.’
‘Can I just ask…what are you doing in the closet?’
‘My work is my life and that’s what I hold onto. When I can hold onto my children then they’ll become my life.’
‘Why is there always glass…?’ ‘More glass…this time I broke through it, a windshield and a plate glass window…’
‘Serve God and suck my dick and lick my scrotum!’ – my coffee went for a Burton at this point!
‘Doing things alone often eliminates the difficulties of having to explain. When I need help I’ll ask for it after its past. Don’t ask me what’s wrong with me while its wrong with me because I’ll make something up.’ – Its almost like Katy Manning is inside my head at some points during this play.
‘I want the children to do everything that will fill them with possibility’ – so simple but really that sums up parenthood beautifully.
‘Different pieces of the Pansy puzzle were coming together’ – Katy sums up the drama perfectly.
‘There’s a teenage disease called ‘Life Sucks’ that’s universal! Life may not get any easier but it may get funnier. Suck it and see.’

Great Ideas: Red satin nipple peeping bras, feathered crotch less panties, jewel pumps with vertiginous heels and cheeky little maids outfits – Wowza if I was straight guy I would find myself in a spot of trouble! Who hasn’t been in the situation where they have thrown a party and as a result you are the person who cannot leave? In dance once you have learnt the steps you don’t need to see, you just feel. I love the term ‘secret secrets’ – the people who you tell them to are few and far between. What every woman in labour needs = a tine spray of Chanel Number Five! In farce it is obligatory for at least one female to appear in her underwear and one male to drop his trousers and of course a convoluted plot of mistaken identity! Who hasn’t turned up at the wrong airport?

Audio Landscape: Nicholas Briggs has been at this game for a long time now and has a superb grasp of the audio medium. You would think hopping about throughout Pansy’s life with such alarming frequency would be confusing but not a bit of it – we leap from location to year with ease, the narrative making perfect sense however it is Toby Hryrek-Robinson who deserves the praise for bringing the story to life with such an impressive array of authentic sound effects. Sirens, cars honking, a buzzer, polite chatter, crackling fire, ballet music, pouring a drink, ears ringing, heart thumping, car crash, ambulance siren, snakes hissing, lions grumbling, phlegm clearing marauders, a growling jeep, a bath, a trippy hallucinatory experience as Pansy tries her first drugs, heavy rain, seagulls screaming, the bustle of the airport, heartbeat, a long breath, birdsong, the delirium of Pansy on the hospital bed hearing all the voices calling out to her. Given Pansy’s trouble with her eyes it means the soundscape has to be more realistic than ever to give this a sensory experience and Toby Robinson deserves huge kudos for allowing us to enter Pansy’s world so vividly.

Musical Cues: Toby Hryrek-Robinson provides one of the best musical scores I have heard in ages, taking the listener on a tour of exotic locations and the many decades of Pansy’s life. I adore piano playing so the tinkling of the ivories during the party was right up my street. There’s a gorgeous rendition of Pachabel’s Canon, which is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. Loved the music during the Zimbabwe sequences – I was grooving about the house much to the raised eyebrows of my husband! That god-awful music blaring from TJ’s room! A lovely lullaby playing Waltzing Matilda on bells.

Standout Scene: Just the thought of somebody smacking a supercilious little squirt on the bottom with a British passport at the airport because they are trifling over excess luggage made me howl with laughter – it sounds like the plan journey from hell! When talking about painful acting experiences due to bear blindness I was reminded of Katy’s comments on location filming for Doctor Who! There’s an astonishing moment of poignancy when Tilly attempts to commit suicide and Pansy has to try and control her emotions and let her daughter deal with her actions in her own way – speaking as somebody whose sister tried to commit suicide many times when I was growing up it gave me a rare peek into how my mother must have been feeling at the time. Katy playing Austen beating Pansy is terrifying.

Result: A deliriously enjoyable trip through the life of Pansy Maude who sees her life through different sheets of glass, be it helping her see the world, holding her back from her children or embracing her in a car accident. Katy Manning has written a funny and poignant non-linear narrative that ties up the most important events in this incredible woman’s life. The first person narration allows you to get close to Pansy and the astonishing number of characters Katy manages to play convinces you for a moment that this is a full cast drama! I took a lot from this lyrical piece of storytelling, that it is wonderful to be able to see the world in your own way and that you need to get out there and live your life, embracing all the good times and learning from the pain. Not a Well Woman touches on strong themes motherhood, suicide and drug abuse and yet it is never a maudlin, serious piece – you finish the tale with a real sense of optimism. A brilliant kick-start into this range of original audio dramas, a very personal piece and a character I would love to hear more from despite the open ended climax: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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