Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne
8 May 2013
Picking up my ticket for Miss Crispy 1988, I was warned that it would be difficult to avoid dancing to the retro soundtrack. It was true; with the boxes of KP crisps littering the stage and ‘Agadoo’ on in the background, it’s enough to make anyone feel nostalgic for ‘better times’. The play, written and directed by David Tuffnell and produced by Middlesbrough’s less is MORE theatre company, is firmly rooted in Teesside’s history. The story was inspired by an image of a ‘Miss KP Foods’ pageant winner and the experiences of real women from the area. The play follows a group of women working on the crisp packaging assembly line in Billingham, each with aspirations to claim the title of “Miss Crispy 1988”.
The most important thing to say about Miss Crispy is that it is hilarious and absurd yet utterly realistic, with heaps of North-Eastern charm and peppered with a darkness which rounds the characters. There wasn’t a member of the cast who didn’t have a tale to tell; the innocent of the group, Pam – played wonderfully by Wendie Middleton – was a particular hit, with a style proving that girls really do just wanna have fun. The women’s journey to the ‘Miss Crispy’ final is laden with tears and tantrums and snapshots of their audition line-up are woven in to to great comic effect, with Pip Chamberlin acting as both the seedy interviewer and a throwback to Saturday night telly with his Host of the final.
At the heart of the show is the relationships between the women – Betty, played by Doreen Frankland, acts as matriarch and union rep to the girls, and their bonding over cheese and onion flavouring leads to various touching moments. The women support each other in times of personal upheaval; however, is the undercurrent of friction provided by newcomer Sarah (played by Nichola Lagan). Andthere is a wonderful backwards love story between Line 2 girl Anne, played by Victoria Holtom and her fiancée Tom.
Stan Hodgson – playing Tom – said of his time working on ‘Miss Crispy’ that “It was a pleasure looking at the real people of Middlesbrough; there were great laughs to be had with it and getting down to my kegs on stage was certainly a unique experience!”. And if that’s not an incentive to catch the show, then I don’t know what is.
For details of where to see Miss Crispy 1988, check the Less is MORE website: http://lessismoreproductions.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/new-date-added-to-miss-crispy-2013-tour/