As movie to stage adaptations go this was never really a foregone choice of subject matter. The 1988 foreign language film never exactly caused a stir and could only ever mildly be given the status of something close to cult rather than outright populous. However, adapted it has been and probably the better for it, albeit after a bumpy journey that included a Broadway flop en route that couldn’t even be saved by Great White Way legend Patti Lu Pone holding the reigns.
Director Bartlett Sher has returned for another go however, this time thinking that it is us pastey white Brits that could do with a good dose of Spanish sun, sex and sangria (well Gazpacho actually)! It’s certainly a bright and sunny addition to the West End. Anthony Ward’s deliciously crisp and breezy designs lend a holiday feel to the seemingly permanently scaffolded drabness of the Playhouse theatre with some brilliantly catchy Spanish inspired music by David Yazbek.
Voiceover artist Pepa has been dumped by lover Ivan via answerphone message. We’re in the eighties remember so mobiles are nowhere to be seen. Jilted ex-wife Lucia is also prowling and looking for revenge whilst best friend Candela is being pursued by a terrorist boyfriend. These are all the women on the verge of that nervous breakdown of the title. It is a mixed bag however as to how these events unfold. There are some genuinely touching moments as well as some real amusement. Sometimes the comedy feels laboured though and then simply descends into outright farce. It leaves you wondering just what kind of show Bertlett Sher thinks he is directing. It never really becomes clear.
There is a sparky musical debut for Tamsin Greig as Pepa. Her neurotic twitching and contorting are comic gold for the most although border on being overdone at times. She sings well and offers a beautifully observed Pepa who goes from hopelessly lost to steely determined in an amusing and touching journey.
Best friend Candela is given energetic life by Anna Skellern, never quite resorting to dumb bimbo but always wearing her heart on her sleeve in a way that the best of best friends do. There is strong support too from an under used Jerome Pradon as Ivan and a deliciously Spanish and comical Ricardo Afonso. It is Afonso that generates some of the best songs and brings the greatest air of authenticity to this Madrid madness.
Stealing the show however is the indefatigable Haydn Gwynne as Lucia. This is a real class act indeed. Gwynne works the stage with some wonderful comic timing and with a look of disgust that could curdle even the hardest of valium laden Gazpacho. The real delight behind her performance though is her portrayal of genuine hurt at being abandoned by the man that she loves. Her singing of Invisible, an ode to how the older woman that has been abandoned in love becomes just that is a beautiful and show stopping moment.