Theatre review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Melissa York
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Tamsin Grieg (centre) as Pepa in the Pedro Almodovar stage adaptation

Playhouse Theatre | ★★★★☆

Oh, to be one of Pedro Almodovar’s women, constantly in and out of love, popping pills and jumping off balconies. The Spanish director is well-known for his love of erratic women and it doesn’t get more exhausting than Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. This is the second time his film has been adapted into a stage musical following an unsuccessful run on Broadway four years ago. But the production has been stripped back for its current incarnation at The Playhouse, swapping taxis for chairs and subplots for a straightforward story of heartbreak.
Tamsin Greig stars as Pepa, an actress in 80s Madrid (Spain’s equivalent of 60s London) where free love is washing away hope of actual love. Pepa’s frantically searching for her live-in lothario Ivan, who has disappeared without trace, and encounters a host of oddballs along the way, including his vengeful ex-wife Lucia, his uptight daughter-in-law Marisa and best friend Candela, an airheaded model who has inadvertently spent three days in bed with a terrorist (totes awks, on many levels).
Greig’s first foray into musical theatre is not an entirely successful one – her husky voice is closer to a bark than a trill – but she’s such a gifted physical actor that it barely matters. Her strong central performance, alongside that of Haydn Gwynne’s tragi-comic Lucia, grounds what could have been a camp farce and turns it into something more life-affirming. It’s a frenetic but enjoyable study of neurotic but passionate women that’s verging on brilliant.

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