Aldwych Theatre, London WC2
Opened 30 November, 2011
Some 250-odd seats in the rear stalls have been partitioned off to make the Aldwych Theatre a more intimate venue for this transfer from the Riverside Studios. Intimacy is the name of the game in Jane Juska’s memoir of her, shall we say, late flowering. The retired teacher placed a personal ad in the New York Review of Books :”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.”
Juska’s book (published in 2003), and now Jane Prowse’s frank yet tasteful stage adaptation, recounts her experiences with various respondents. There was the cabbie who misunderstood the Trollope reference as a declaration of sluttishness, the 82-year-old who stole her stars-and-stripes undies as a trophy, and more sombrely the guy who strung her along and the one who bedded her just before his CAT scan. She also portrays the friends from home in Berkeley, California, who in all other respcts are liberal and supportive but who are frankly shocked first by the ad itself – “What if someone sees it?” – and later by her revelation that one of the most likely candidates is half her age.
Sharon Gless, masterly performer that she is, makes a connection with the audience from the first minute’s gag about our being there whilst she engages in phone-sex; this would undoubtedly be more difficult if the venue’s space had not been limited. (The connection, I mean, not the pone-sex.) Barry McCarthy, Nail McCaul and Michael Thomson play multiple roles including assorted respondents, Juska’s estranged son and characters from Trollope’s Miss Mackenzie, whose protagonist (Beth Cordingly) is ever-present at the back of Juska’s mind.
However, as the two-hour show progressed, I began to wonder where the supposed affirmation was. A woman owning her sexuality at such a mature age, yes, fine and dandy, but every single episode seemed to offer a few initial laughs, even more substantial hope, only to crash and burn, which consequences surely cannot be the intended message. The upbeat two-strand conclusion (involving Juska’s son and the younger man respectively) seems tacked on after such a series of misfortunes. The ending doesn’t justify the means.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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