Your reviewer had never ventured so far into darkest Essex. On and on trundled the District Line train, taking him farther and farther eastward, away from his familiar haunts in Central London. Having reached Hornchurch station, he ascertained from a friendly native that he should take a 256 bus to the Queen’s Theatre. Would the entertainment on offer be worth the trek to this unfrequented neck of the woods, he wondered.
It certainly was. Far from being a small fringe theatre nestling above a pub, with seating for a few dozen at most, the Queen’s Theatre boasts a large auditorium with seating for 500, and most of the seats were filled that night. The auditorium was filled with laughter as well as people, while the tale unfolded of a motley band of unfit and overweight ladies struggling to keep their ramshackle gymnasium open.
This is a heart-warming comedy about dogged persistence in the face of adversity, with gags visual and verbal aplenty. All the action takes place in the gym run by Ms Silver, who has to cajole her unwilling charges into mastering the arcane techniques of clean and press, deadlifts, plank position, and so forth. The trainees exemplify the diversity of present-day London: one is Jamaican, one is a Jewess, one is a Muslim who insists on keeping her hijab on while pumping iron. The only male participant is a West Indian costermonger whose philandering proclivities provide an opportunity for much sexual innuendo and banter. Less pleasant issues crop up, from domestic violence to the menopause, but sisterly solidarity helps them all to cope.
The show reaches a wonderful climax with a fund-raising event in which the gym members show off their prowess to a musical accompaniment which may remind older readers of one of the best scenes in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, shown on television more than thirty years ago. What am I talking about? You will have to go to Hornchurch to find out. It is worth the trip!