Monday, August 19, 2013

Theatre: 51 Shades of Maggie Muff

by Leesa Harker
Directed by Terence O’Connell
Starring Nikki Britton
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until September 21

A spectacularly obscene parody of the mummy porn phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey was inevitable, and, despite myself, I’m happy to welcome it to our shores.

51 Shades of Maggie Muff started life as a bit of fun for Belfast mature-age student Leesa Harker and her mates on Facebook. Then known as 51 Shades of Red, White and Blue (there’s some Irish politics here), it became an overnight online sensation in Ireland, gathering 25,000 readers and a book deal within weeks, followed quickly by hit stage versions in Dublin and Glasgow.

Within a year of Harker’s first lurid chapter hitting the ether, it’s here, now set in the rough-as-guts wrong side of the tracks in Manchester, where the main employer is the dole office, the main activity is late night shoplifting and the main entertainment, to use the least offensive of Maggie’s arsenal of wafer-thin euphemisms, is bucking.

In the practiced hands of the busy director Terence O’Connell, whose Empire is also running in Perth, and with a fabulously vivid and boisterous solo performance by Nikki Britton, Maggie Muff is wildly funny much of the time, and surprisingly touching to boot.

That’s because Maggie, who thinks she’s found love with the creepy upper class tosser who works at the dole office, is as much working class heroine as she is sex addict. The tone of the play shifts adroitly between excruciatingly crude descriptions of sexual attraction and practices, and the effect they have on various body parts, to nicely drawn vignettes of lives lived tough, rough and not far from the street.

It’s desperately offensive, and, to be honest, becomes a little grinding and repetitive in the second half, but Maggie is no Anastasia Steele, her saltiness is of the earth and she’s a character that you can recognise, and empathise with, even at her most outrageous and degraded.

And boy (well, really, girl) does this thing have an audience! On a stay-at-home-and-watch-the-tv night in the middle of the third week of its run, there were still a couple of hundred in the theatre. Only around ten per cent of them were male (including Britton’s dad, who’d taken a couple of days off work to fly to Perth to see his daughter make an exhibition of herself), and the gleeful laughter of the other ninety per cent was unmistakable. And it isn’t girlish giggling we’re talking about here; this was full-throated guffawing born, I think, of identification and ownership.

Not, I hasten to add, with and of BDSM and the other amusements on Maggie Muff’s menu; more for the chance to have some good filthy fun that isn’t for, and owned by, men.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what the male equivalent of 51 Shades of Maggie Muff is. And I’m also not sure, if it exists, we’d be up to it.   

This review appeared in The West Australian

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