The Silver Gym - Queen's Theatre Review

Ex-Army captain Stella Silver is starting afresh and has just bought herself a gym. Well, it’s a building. With running water. Unfortunately rather more than she had anticipated as it turns out that, in the interim between the sale and her arrival, thieves have had most of the roof off. The battle to save it, by bunch of the mostly disadvantaged, from the developers is at the heart of the story.

It’s an everyday story in many ways – the underdog versus power. It moves very fast with everyone resolving their differences and beginning to work together perhaps a bit too quickly to be believable, but the lively pace and sense of being just a bit over the top saves it.

The thing that comes across strongly is the strength of the relationships, the different reasons the people, mostly women, come and the way that they support each other. Each is to some extent a stereotype, a representative of many others, but despite the lack of depth they have distinct personalities and each makes a journey in the course of the play, often from hiding behind the façade they think the world wants to see to something more honest. All use humour to deal with their position as disadvantaged; both broadly and within their specific culture. It also illustrates the ways in which we are suspicious of others when they are different in some way and that those fears can dissolve as we get to know them. An obvious message but one that needs reinforcing and this play does it with laughs to an audience that is might well be drawn from the less tolerant parts of our society,

Nicola McAuliffe’s writing is witty with plenty of laughs. There are a few polemic moments, such as lecturing Franklin on the sheer relief of the menopause and being free of ‘reproductive shackles’, that don’t add much to the story but clearly struck a chord with quite a lot of the audience.

The cast all deliver strong performances with good comic timing; there were few lapses in pace. Nicola McAuliffe as Stella Silver provides a role model for any older women just in terms of fitness. To model a plank eight times a week is quite something. And doing the splits brought a mix of applause and sharply indrawn breaths from the audience (the latter from those of us of about the same age who couldn’t do that when we were ten).

Glen Walford’s direction keeps the action moving the whole time with very little in the way of scene changes and nice use of lighting to shift the time onward.

The set, a thoroughly dilapidated space with only a smattering of equipment, creates a convincing space. A little more thought on the placing of the office would have avoided the one awkward shift in the change to the final scene

So yes, it gallops a bit and everyone makes friends and resolves their differences rather quicker than they probably would in real life, and there are a couple of polemic moments but that doesn’t detract from the sheer energy, fizz and unexpected turns. It’s fun. If you ever feel that events around you seem to be beyond anything you can influence because of your gender, age, ethnicity, waistline… this is a play to remind you that you are only on the sidelines if you choose to be there. It’ll give you a bit of a kick in the butt to get out there and make a difference. And if you’re a woman over 50, you’ll probably be thinking about weight bearing exercise and joining a gym as well…

A sparkling witty life affirming feminist romp that celebrates diversity and ageing (not necessarily at the same time) and reminds us that even the most unlikely activists can make a difference.

(c) Kate Saffin 2016 @nb_morningmist

Read Female Arts / Kate Saffin's interview with Nicola McAuliffe here:

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