20 October 2011
Thirty years since she swung onto our television sets as NYPD cop Christine Cagney, Sharon Gless can still pull a crowd. Even at the first performance of this new play about a love-starved spinster, the Riverside Studios' very considerable main auditorium was packed. At a glance the audience looked like middle-aged fans, but Gless's performance will put just about anyone under arrest.
She plays real-life retired English teacher Jane Juska who took a 30-year sexual sabbatical after splitting with her husband in the Seventies. She decides to end her love drought by putting a suggestive ad in the personal columns of the New York Review of Books in 1999: 'Before I turn 67 I'd like a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.' The result is a merry-go-round of OAP bed-hopping. Mercifully everyone keeps their clothes on, but the language won't just raise eyebrows, it will singe sensibilities. I couldn't think of a single gynaecological term or appurtenance that went uncredited.
But at the same time Jane Prowse's stage adaptation is outrageously funny. Sections of the audience didn't know whether to laugh or scream.
Pushing 70 herself, Gless is an absolute blast. Not only is she a fine and vigorous-looking woman, she strikes an easy, candid rapport with her audience. She is strident, naive, melancholy, vulnerable, and quick-witted. And she's still got her terrific facility for dropping her voice a couple of gears into something huskier when she needs to make a point.
These kind of celebrity shows can be ghastly vanity affairs with the rest of the cast servicing an ego. But here the actors have just as much fun. Michael Thomson is a vocal chameleon, while Beth Cordingly shares Gless's pain as her favourite character from one of Anthony Trollope's Victorian novels. Jane Bertish is a hoot as the chain-smoking Mum and Barry McCarthy gives a fabulously cruel turn as a polo-necked critic with a wonky wig, deaf ear and gleeful bosom fetish.