13 November 2011
Hurrah for the Oldest Swinger in Town
If the vagina monologues said as much as you ever wished to hear about female sexuality, Jane Prowse's play, A Round-Heeled Woman (Riverside Studios, London) *****, might be a taboo too far in tackling sex and the over-60s.
Adapted from a memoir of the same title (a Victorian term for street prostitutes, their heels worn down by cobbles), it tells a chapter of author Jane Juska's life with sometimes heartbreaking honesty.
Aged 66, a retired English teacher at an American high school and celibate for 30 years, Juska longed to feel the touch of a man on her body. So she put an advert in the New York Review of Books which read: 'Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.'
Her friends suggested therapy. She received 63 replies, and so began her sexual adventure.
Sharon Gless, right, who was the blonde detective Cagney in Cagney & Lacey, plays Juska. Her white hair cropped short and sassy, she begins dressed in scarlet and lying on her bed, talking dirty on the phone with a total stranger. Between dates (the play covers five), she addresses the audience directly as if we're her best and trusted friends. Both laughter and tears are plentiful.
Her first meeting is hilarious: a dyslexic taxi driver thinks she meant trollop, not Trollope and it's downhill from there. She is humiliated by another man who sees her as a whore and refuses to kiss her. Jonah is a dream come true in bed, but steals her champagne flutes.
Sophisticated Robert makes her feel like a teenager but breaks her heart. Then she meets 33-year-old Graham... Prowse has done a nifty job compressing the memoir. She even squeezes in scenes featuring the heroine from Juska's favouriteTrolllope novel, Miss MacKenzie - another plucky woman also looking for the love of a good man. And in a neat twist, it turns out that Juska's real search is for her estranged son.
A versatile cast pop up in a plethora of parts but this is Gless' show. Frank, feisty and funny, she takes us with her on Juska's extraordinary journey, and ensures we're gunning for her every inch of the way.