Pros: A high-energy cast kept up the pace with talent and panache.
Cons: The syrupy storyline oversimplified the serious and difficult subject matter.
Rumpy Pumpy takes its inspiration from the true story of Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels, two women who campaigned for the legalisation of prostitution in 2006, following outrage over the murder of six sex workers in Ipswich. As part of their research these two formidable women travelled the world in pursuit of the “perfect brothel” in an attempt to find better working conditions for prostitutes.
Barbara Jane Mackie’s adaptation of this remarkable story, currently being performed in an energetic and buoyant production at the Union Theatre, is ultimately flawed; all the more disappointing given that the plot has so much potential. The beginning hints at a nuanced insight into the conditions surrounding prostitution. The women in Madame Holly’s brothel have a story to tell about drunken brothers, abusive husbands and sick mothers driving them to work “on their backs”. One of them, the fierce Constable Heck, was abused as a child, leading to her fervent quest to stamp out prostitution. On Jean and Shirley’s worldwide quest for better working conditions, they encounter demeaning scenes, cruel pimps and harsh stories.
Then, however, it all descends into bawdy trivia, with sexy dance numbers that awkwardly smother the important and serious conversation around improving the lot of sex workers and suggestive songs with titles like “boobs, tubes, jellies and lubes” fishing for a cheap laugh. Constable Heck turns out to be gay, and thus susceptible to seduction, which somehow leads to her incarceration and thus, a rosy ending! The cast make the most of script and lyrics, with great performances in particular by Scarlet Wilderink as a sex worker and Linda Nolan as the gutsy Madame.
The Union Theatre is always a treat to visit. Sadly, though, amongst all the cheery absurdity, Jane and Shirley’s audacious mission becomes meaningless.
Author: Barbara Jane Mackie
Director: Simon Greiff
Musical Director: Paul Smith
Lyrics and score: Barbara Jane Mackie
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking Link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/rumpy_pumpy.html
Booking Until: Saturday 19 November, 2016