When I made my way up the small stairway that leads to the Old Red Lion Theatre (set above the Old Red Lion pub,) I found the theatre and the nearly non-existent set (three white cubes) plunged in ominous blue light. I was instantly worried- was this going to be one of those experimental shows where a naked lady screams adjectives at you a la spoken word? Thankfully no, Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area is a simple, honest and extremely relatable play about old age, sex (or lack thereof) and a desire to escape our everyday norms.
Unidentified Item In the Bagging Area tell the story of Victoria, poignantly played by Jenny Ogilvie (The Audience), who unexpectedly finds out that she is menopausal. Cue an extremely awkward and highly amusing opening scene featuring Victoria’s visit to her handsome Gynecologist, played by Edward Wolstenholme in his professional stage debut. This doctors visit was so relatable that I had to double check my program to make sure that the play was written by a woman, which it is. This first scene set the tone for the rest of the play, which was just as funny and just as cringe-worthy as the spread eagle opener.
After finding out she is menopausal Victoria returns to her home and her sexless marriage with Jeremy, played by John MacAndrew (Yes, Prime Minister) who seems more interested in battling an ant infestation than having sex with his own wife or comprehending the meaning of the word menopause. Victoria begins to feel alone, but not just because of her newfound barrenness and lack of marital sex but also because her son Harry has recently left the ‘nest’ and is now off enjoying his life at Oxford.
Harry, played by Andy Rush (Jumpers for Goalposts) comes to visit and ever-dotting mother Victoria runs him a bath with scattered rose-petals and Adele playing in the background. Cue more awkwardness as Victoria insists on staying in the bathroom and watching her son bathe whilst she interrogates him on his love life and diet. This scene will have your skin crawling with that specific pleasure we all feel when witnessing someone else’s embarrassing moment.
There are also a few grocery store scenes strewn throughout the first act starring Joshua Miles (Bully Boy) who first plays a Polish shop worker named Marek and then a rude Sainsbury employee named Dick. Miles is fun to watch and these albeit slightly boring scenes fulfill their purpose of showing us just how dull Victoria’s daily life is and subsequently we empathize when she later decides to escape it all.
In complete despair Victoria turns to a support group for menopausal women where she meets Polly, a nervous wreck of woman played by Tracey Ann Wood, (The Last Yankee), Anita the bizarre group leader who comes barring stew, played by Kate Russell Smith (Sex Cell) and Meg, played by Paddy Navin (the Crucible), the outspoken sex hotline operator who lives above a chip shop. From this moment onwards Navin steals the show- she swears, she has loud phone sex, she’s unapologetically racist and so unashamedly trashy in this role that it will have you in a fit of snort laughter.
Finally Victoria decides that she is fed up with her life, she moves in with sassy Meg above the chip shop and after some coaxing becomes a smooth sex talker named Licky Vicky. Hilarity ensues as Victoria settles into her new raunchy life but a date gone awry with the sleazy gynecologist puts things back into perspective. The question becomes will Victoria remain in this new life or will the old life seep in through the cracks?
I won’t spoil the rest of it for you and but I will say that there is a dance number involved and full frontal male nudity thrown in for good measure.
Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area is not groundbreaking, perhaps not even original but this menopausal chick flick will have you cringing, laughing and maybe even crying by the end of it. For 15 quid (20 with drinks and trust me drinking and this show go hand in hand) this play is well worth it for a seedy, boozy night out.
Review by Jacqueline Silvester
Photo: Matt Howey Nunn
Catch Unidentified Item in the Bagging Area at the Old Red Lion Theatre until the 8th of November.