Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has the ingredients for a great musical theatre adaptation - love, passion, heartache, drama, humour and strong complex characters. Transferring a highly revered cinematic modern classic onto the stage has its risks as a balance has to be met between being true to the soul of the original yet allowing new interpretations to come through.
Both Almodóvar fans and theatregoers less familiar with his work will not be disappointed with the musical production currently in its final week at the Playhouse Theatre. Set in a colourful and vibrant Madrid going through a post Franco cultural and sexual explosion, the story follows actress Pepa who struggles with her lover Ivan’s unceremonious leaving. On top of the personal hurt and confusion Pepa crosses paths with Ivan’s bitter unstable wife, his shy put-upon grown up son and snobbish uptight future daughter-in-law. There is also Pepa’s best friend Candela who finds herself in a dangerous affair with a terrorist.
Tamsin Greig, in her first musical role starring as Pepa, effortlessly draws you into the roller coaster mind of a woman losing self control. Greig combines her signature comic timing with an emotional rawness crucial to the Almodóvar female. The rest of the cast, including Haydn Gwynne as Ivan’s wife Lucia, also deliver the same powerful impact as Greig and lead you to empathise with each character even though they may initially appear disagreeable.
With music and lyrics by David Yazbek, there are punchy songs which deliver and further emphasise the heightened dramatics of the women on stage. Notable songs include the frantic Model Behaviour packed with a desperate Candela’s phone messages to an oblivious Pepa and the melancholy Invisible where Lucia laments her lost youth to a baffled courtroom.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: The Musical is a fun and lively outing with substance. It’s sexy without trying. You’ll go home with a spring in your step, a lifted heart and a craving for gazpacho - just go easy on the valium.