Talent review – Victoria Wood’s first play comes home

Crucible, Sheffield
Wood’s trademarks are all in place in her talent-show debut drama, first performed at the Crucible in 1978, though it feels somewhat dated now

The talents that made the late Victoria Wood great shine through this, her first, flawed play. The setting is backstage at a rundown northern cabaret-cum-nightclub. Here, worldly 24-year-old office worker Julie (Lucie Shorthouse) prepares to enter a talent contest, which she hopes will boost her out of the mundane and into fame and fortune. Maureen (Jamie-Rose Monk), Julie’s unworldly, unfashionable, “big-boned”, sceptical former classmate, now workmate, chums her friend along.

It’s a classic Wood female friendship pairing. Their dialogue is Wood’s familiar humour-collage of the everyday: underwear (“Dorothy Perkins half-cup wired”), brand names (Babycham, Mivvi, Chesterfields), product descriptions and catch-lines (two-in-one when the ingredients list on a face pack concludes with a promise to, as the two women chorus, “Shut that pore!”).

So far, so sketch-funny. Paul Foster’s direction, though, fails to cover over Wood’s first-time playwright weaknesses. On a frivolous level, you cannot, in full view of the audience, fill a hat with pee, put it in a filing cabinet and then just leave it there. More seriously, the sexist, offensive attitudes and behaviours of Daniel Crossley’s sleazy compere and Jonathon Ojinnaka’s self-centred organist – along with the women’s responses to them – are not only dated, they are dramatically weak.

Why has the Crucible decided to stage this embryonic work – and in this 90-minute version, given that the subsequent TV adaptation (featuring Wood and Julie Walters) runs at a sharper, better-shaped 60 minutes (worth a watch on YouTube)? The reason given iis the fact that Talent first opened in this theatre’s studio in 1978, and that it “serves as a reminder of Sheffield theatres’ long-term dedication to championing exciting artists at the start of their careers, and amplifying new and evolving voices”. Surely the recently concluded two-week Together Season festival of new work by local artists was reminder enough.

  • Talent is at the Crucible, Sheffield, until 24 July

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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