As well as the main show in their Southwark Street theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory have three shows on in the West End, two on Broadway, and are taking over the streets of the South Bank every weekend. You can see how they'd think they were underachieving, so with their current show A Number
having a 50-minute running time they've added a second show after it, and are the latest theatre to import a Fringe First winner from this year's Edinburgh Festival. Running for just a handful of shows, Primadoona
sees Doon MacKichan relive a traumatic few years in her life, including her divorce, a career downturn and the death of her father while she was in Boeing Boeing
, and then trying to get on with life as a single mother, before going back and dealing with an even more distressing period.
When people write solo shows for themselves they can be a way of showing off their talents; other times they can be confessionals, like therapy sessions with an audience. Primadoona
is a bit of both. The first half is very funny and sees MacKichan use her gifts for physical comedy as well as a variety of voices and even sound effects in what is almost like a sketch show building up a picture of her recent life; so she provides the hold music while she's on the phone to God, recreates her acceptance speech for Smack The Pony
's second Emmy (which is on stage! an actual Emmy!) and relives Celebrity Fame Academy
(and her disappointment that Richard Curtis was phoning to offer her a Comic Relief gig, not a starring role in his next film.) As well as various voices for TV ad voiceovers (and a satnav) she gives us several other characters, the best being a posh, no-nonsense neighbour ("When my
husband left me I thought, you were Brown Owl, you can deal with this.")
The show takes an abrupt turn in the second half where we focus on one main incident, namely when her middle child Louis, aged 9 at the time, was diagnosed with a very rare form of Leukaemia. We go through her guilt and denial (she initially decides that this is a role she's playing, of mother to a sick child) to feelings of helplessness (the experimental treatment which ends up saving Louis is a computer programme which seemingly at random picks the next course of chemo) and how she, and other mothers, deal with the situation they're in. A streak of comedy remains despite all this, not least when she teases the audience that they'll all be naked by the end of the show, and by the end it's an uplifting show without being the theatrical equivalent of a cheesy movie-of-the-week. I've liked MacKichan since Knowing Me, Knowing You
so maybe I was predisposed to enjoy this, but it certainly didn't disappoint and I'd say deserves its award.Primadoona
by Doon MacKichan, with additional material by Martin Millar and dramaturgy by Bryony Lavery, is booking until the 31st of October at the Menier Chocolate Factory.