A module on Spanish cinema during my first year as an undergraduate gave me my initial taste of ‘Almodóvar’, and it’s fair to say that after seeing the 1988 Oscar-nominated Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), I was hooked. We furthermore studied the 1999 masterpiece Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) and Volver (2009), and I can remember being enthralled by his portrayal of such strong female characters, and relished analysing these films and fondly remember composing an essay on whether he could possibly be considered a misogynist.
Seven years later, I have now seen all of his works to date, and even own quite an extensive collection myself, yet ‘Women on the Verge’ remains mi preferida (my favourite). You can imagine my reaction, therefore, when I heard that a West End adaption was on the horizon!
Staged in London’s intimate Playhouse Theatre, Jeffery Lane’s musical adaption of ‘Women on the Verge’, like the film, transports you to Madrid of the 1980s and into the chaotic world of the central character, Pepa Marcos (Portrayed in the West End adaption by the wonderfully talented Tamsin Greig). Voice-over artist Pepa struggles after being dumped by her boyfriend Iván (Jerome Pradon), and the crazily tangled plot sees her life soon become more complicated as her lover’s ex-wife Lucía (Haydn Gwynne), his son (Haydn Oakley) and his girlfriend Marisa (Seline Hizli) turn up. She soon learns that Iván is leaving her for another woman- the feminist laywer Paulina (Willemijn Verkaik), and amongst all of this chaos, her best friend and model, the comical Candela (Anna Skellern), is having problems with her love life too, and although she thinks she has found the perfect man, he could quite possibly be an international terrorist. Over the course of the film, the female characters suffer greatly.
They each come close to having a nervous breakdown as they struggle to cope with tragedy in their love lives, only to emerge stronger than ever. This female suffering with triumphant resilience is a key theme of Almodóvar’s cinema, leading to his label as a ‘women’s director’.
All of the drama is set against a colourful surreal backdrop of bright 80s inspired colours which stay true to the film- from Pepa’s apartment furnished with a bright blue sofa, right down to the iconic bright red clothing first sported by Carmen Maura in the film. An infectious Spanish-inspired dance soundtrack accompanies the plot, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, which really convey the emotion of the characters.
My personal favourite number was ‘Tangled’ performed by Anna Skellern, where she sings as Candela, prancing around the stage shouting and sobbing with emotion whilst gripping a telephone, which is a symbol for the key theme of miscommunication between the sexes.
Greig, who makes her musical debut with Women on the Verge, in my opinion, does an incredible job in conveying Pepa’s heartache, professional pride and and above all, her resilience and zest for survival- making her truly one of Almodovar’s chicas (girls). I had a simply wonderful January afternoon in Almodóvar’s colourful world, and would urge you to make your way to the box office as soon as possible. The play is running until the 9th of May 2015, so Venga! (come on!) as the Spanish would say, and don’t be even ‘on the verge’ of missing out.