You’d be forgiven for thinking that Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company’s latest production, currently playing at the Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton, is some sort of crazy reimagining of a great bard tragedy. Othello on a cruise ship, perhaps, or Macbeth on a beach. Hamlet in a local pub. An inner-city classroom King Lear. Romeo and Juliet on an all-inclusive package holiday in Benidorm.
Shakers Re-Stirred is, in fact, just about as far from Shakespeare as you could get. The play, written by John Godber and Jane Thornton and set in the 1980s, is an hilarious insight into both the working and private lives of four waitresses in a cocktail bar called, you guessed it, ‘Shakers’. In this hugely successful production, director Neil Scott breathes new life into the trendy drinking hole in which the action mainly takes place. It’s a roller-coaster ride of a play, full of the highs and lows which characterise all of our lives.
The multi-talented four-strong all female cast have their work cut out: not only do they each play a cocktail waitress, they variously bring to life a whole host of other characters, both men and women. Prepare to meet a particularly varied clientele, from loudmouthed supermarket checkout girls and cocky young lads to arrogant yuppy types and disgracefully sexist businessmen. Carrying off the constant character changes requires precision timing: a challenge confidently met in this slick production.
The format of the play means it takes a while to get to know the waitresses (Carol, Adele, Nikki and Mel) themselves. Their characters slowly unfold as we witness them dealing with a wide range of challenges: rude customers, drunk customers, complaining customers, vomiting customers, abusive customers and male customers with wandering hands. It’s a pretty hellish vision of a hectic and stressful working life in a cocktail bar although a certain camaraderie emerges between the women which helps to temper the harshness.
Carol, played by Clare Snape, is a university graduate who reacts angrily to customers treating her as though she is “thick” because of the job she does. In a strong performance, she captures the defensiveness and frustration of a woman struggling to realise her ambitions. In one of many other roles, as a young woman in a shop changing room desperately trying to squeeze herself into a new pair of jeans, she provides one of the first act’s comic highlights.
Emily Horobin invests waitress Nikki, who has accepted a dancing job on a cruise ship, with a delightful perky optimism in another confident performance. Her chirpy enthusiasm cracks, however, in a beautifully delivered monologue which reveals the fears behind the pursuit of her dream.
Single mother Adele, played with world-weary acceptance by Heidi Hargreaves in a convincing performance, is perhaps the most developed character among the waitresses. Juggling the responsibilities of parenting with work is a theme which remains timely and relevant, in a play which can feel slightly dated. In role as a testosterone-fuelled young business type, she brings comic man-swagger to the stage.
On the surface, Mel is cheerful and perfectly happy with her lot working at Shakers. Sporting a perfectly crimped head of 80s style hair, Alex Wrampling brings a bold brashness to her character. A moving monologue reveals a fragile self-esteem underneath the hardnosed exterior.
Whilst darker themes of sexism, harassment, exploitation and social class run through the play, this production is ultimately a comic theatrical treat. Zip up your cocktail slacks and shimmy down to the Duchess for this laughter-packed night out. It may not be Shakespeare but you won’t regret it.
‘Shakers Re-Stirred’ is playing at the Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton until Saturday 28th September.