We get a real sniff of writer ambition here. Donna Moore sets out a sufficiently bold and intelligent show on the ‘Cougar ‘subject, and for those who have not come across the slang term before, it’s a term for the woman who dates a younger man (men).
I banished from my mind, early in, any preconceived ideas that this is purely a case of women behaving badly. This is an exploration piece, largely in musical terms, of three very different women and each one’s response to acquiring a youthful lover(s). There is some logic meant and it is life affirming for the sisterhood in many ways.
If there is going to be any stereo typifying characterisation, then the closest to it is Cougar club owner, Mary-Marie (Suanne Braun – pictured above middle). Then there’s the serious and independent minded, Clarity (Dawn Hope pictured top left), and the recently divorced, Child Entertainer, Lily (Pippa Winslow pictured top right).
All are mothers, and all throw their usual considerations and cautioned approaches into a shared portal of love and at times taking the opportunity (at its purest or otherwise) to lust after a young dude. This is where hot flashes and flushes for the middle-aged woman comes along in unsuspecting ways and in the case of Mary-Marie there’s some serial flinging with the younger set going on. She has even set up a website! Any young buck in for the Cougar treatment is played by, Barnaby Hughes, he plays five different male characters, and a funny female one too, Eve, the nail bar worker.
The flirting is mild and any love action is merely suggested in the clever words of the script and the song lyrics. Hughes keeps his abs in trim and these are revealed when he struts around the stage with his open shirt as Buck, and Braun strips herself of her underwear (or so it appears) before her character ends up feeling shamefaced and upset by these actions. Nevertheless, there is no nudity in the show despite one of the characters being named as Naked Peter! Some stage props are not quite so subtle, but the pulling of the vibrator from the handbag is not really a surprise when it happens, and these in-jokes just keep on-a-rolling throughout. I found myself permanently smiling as the vibe is extremely theatrical and not in any way distasteful.
These sassy girl actors (and their boy) wear the clothes and the accessories so well and all four cast members are fabulous singers, with an impressive range and some well pitched harmonizing. Two expert musicians sit in an elevated position at the rear delivering all those fine and dandy Broadway style compositions, using drums and keyboard alone, with a lively large screen projection of patterned images scrolling up and down behind.
Yet because of the intimacy of the The Belgrade’s B2 auditorium some of the stage front dance moves and performance happens in close quarters to some audience members. The rich red set with high stools set before a shiny cocktail bar is some way back. The dancing is not hugely energetic, it comes in waves with some short South American style stepping out phased pieces, some singular and some paired and others grouped in show style performances; all expertly choreographed.
Admittedly, both my theatre attendance and reaction was somewhat serendipitous this time around and so I would like to express glowing admiration to the Belgrade Theatre for putting on such a classy production.
Photography by Nicola Young
Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall who attended the matinee performance of COUGAR The Musical at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Saturday 23 May 2015. Ends June 6th.