Thursday, 26 March 2015

THEATRE REVIEW: The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas

The Londonderry Musical Society push boundaries and thrill audiences in their latest production

It's the LMS, Jim, but not as we know them. For more than half a century, the Londonderry Musical Society have taken pride in both matching and exceeding the expectations of musical theatre lovers everywhere. But most recently, they’ve gone further and subverted them. Last year, the intimately theatrical, partially horrifying and dramatically moving Jekyll & Hyde cemented the LMS as a new kind of force: experimental and adaptable, without abandoning their usually high standards of entertainment. With The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas – a suggestively dubious title in itself – they've taken subversion all the way, yet remained true to their proud history. It's a remarkable production.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas is based on the true story of a legendary Texas brothel known as The Chicken Ranch, which thrived under the unofficial blessing of the local authorities until a Houston television commentator set out to expose it and shut it down. It's as close as the LMS has ever gotten to adult humour and downright raunchiness, with push-up bras, thrusting and swear words seen and heard. If director Deigh Reid's intention is to make you feel like you're in the titular “whorehouse”, he's done just that, with suggestive, knowing poses and a cascade of colourful costumes (and sometimes language) raining down on the audience throughout the entirety of the first act. Not everyone might know what to make of it, but it is guaranteed to linger long in the minds of the watchers.

As are more than a handful of the show tunes. 24 Hours Of Lovin' is performed with a decidedly Aretha Franklin-esque air by the calmly sassy Penny McGonagle, the brilliant Katie Patton gets her moment in the spotlight with the Doatsey Mae song (even if her character has not yet been fully established), The Aggie Song is hilariously choreographed, The Sidestep is delightfully catchy, and every single one of Mona's songs are performed confidently and soulfully by the leading lady and her girls. Mona herself, Muire McCallion, is the clear standout in a superb cast, her mannerisms and singing voice tying in perfectly with the character's nature. That's to be expected.

What's not so expected, without going into specifics, is the grim turn the show takes in the second act, unveiling humanity in characters that we wish we’d gotten to know better. A fun, risqué romp becomes darkly devastating (and eerily timely with arts cuts everywhere, every when), unveiling The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas to be about the pros and consequences of "letting your hair down" in a society and atmosphere that is more conservative than you'd like it to be.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas runs until Saturday March 28 at Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum. Book tickets here.