I am a geek. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s positively encouraged and accepted nowadays. And it is with that geeky enthusiasm I attended the press night of the Pat Phoenix story - The Queen of the North, at Bolton Octagon on Friday night.
To say I love Pat Phoenix is an understatement. I have a daughter named Elsie and as a teenager I wore my Smiths T-shirt of Elsie Tanner looking magnificent as often as the smell of youthful body odour would allow. As I sat down two rows behind Tony Booth and The Headmaster Ritual by The Smiths began playing I thought I was going to pass out from sheer delight – Corrie, Pat Phoenix AND The Smiths!
Why then did I have a good night but not a great night?
The story started at the beginning of the end with Pat Phoenix being rushed to hospital rising from her bed and telling her tale.
With a life as rich and dramatic as hers I found a surprising lack of any drama. It moved from episode to episode of her story without dwelling on anything and that was to its detriment.
It touched upon the parallels between Elsie Tanner and Pat Phoenix but, again, didn’t seem to analyse anything or draw any conclusions, it just lurched from scene to scene until you were almost willing them to stop and let the audience catch its breath.
The fourth wall was non-existent to the central character as she earnestly and honestly told us about herself while the other cast members played out scenes from her life. Lynda Rooke is fantastic as Phoenix. It struck an odd and sometimes poignant note to see her take part in scenes and then break off to talk to the audience. Imagine an audio book autobiography with a bit of visual thrown in and you’re halfway there.
As far as the rest of the cast were concerned, John McArdle was great as Tony Booth and the remaining four cast members simply had too much to do, with each of them playing at least five characters! Charlie Covell was great but Sally Hodgkiss was a little hit and miss with some of her roles, although not as hit and miss as some of the wigs she was forced to wear! Unfortunately she had the last lines - a postscript straight to audience - that rather undermined the ending. Matt Healy had the unenviable task of playing Phoenix’s father and then second husband, Alan Browning, a suspension of disbelief too far.
The set was interesting in all its dual-levelled revolving glory but given the finite amount of time they had to cram her life into, too much time was spent climbing and descending the stairs.
Ron Rose’s script had some great moments but I swear if there was one more ‘It’s me they’ve come to see!’ or ‘Men are like that aren’t they girls?’ I would have screamed! The humour too seemed like it should have been there but it seemed to get lost. ‘Intelligent men, rare as rocking horse shit!’ got the biggest laugh of the night.
Like Titanic we all know the end of Pat’s story so it’s all about what happens in the build-up. You’d have to do something disastrously wrong to botch an ending as sad as her suffering from lung cancer, marrying Tony Booth on her deathbed and passing away one week later. Fortunately, both McCardle and Rooke played it beautifully and – apart from an extremely poignant scene with Pat hugging her mother – it was the only point at which I felt emotionally involved and that was the problem. With a life as rich, varied, tragic, glamorous and full of pathos as Pat Phoenix’s, this play should have delivered a lot more.
Good but not great. Solidly directed with a feisty, energetic and believable performance by Lynda Rooke who had A LOT to do and carried it off with aplomb.
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