Beneath the Blue Rinse is set in Mrs Flora Parkin’s living room, whose dresser, coffee and side tables are littered with kitsch porcelain ornaments. Marlene Sidaway’s brilliance is in her naturalism and mischief as Flora. She is assailed by Simon, played as a wide boy by Kevin Tomlinson, who uses crude and fearful pressure selling to try and coerce Flora into buying a burglar alarm. Flora at first appears to be a helpless and gullible little old lady, but looks are very deceiving.
At the point that Simon believes he has made a sale, Flora reveals that she is a member of OPAL, the Older Persons Armed League, the military wing of Age UK, which raises roars of laughter from the audience. Flora handcuffs and ties Simon to an armchair, which he initially believes are sexual overtures, as she has stripped to her basque, stockings and suspenders. Whilst doing so, Flora pulls a gun on him, playing “Stuck in the Middle with You” in an amusing reference to “Reservoir Dogs.” Flora set up this honey-trap to avenge Simon’s manipulation and bullying of 45 older people into contracts for his company’s “security alarms.” Flora also declares that she wants to force people to care about the elderly and bemoans the invisibility of older people, who “make themselves easier to ignore wearing beige and grey.” She complains about the typecasting of older people: “when have you ever heard older people described as dangerous or vital?” She rages at how older people are mistreated by society, especially elder abuse in care homes, where OPAL has agents. Flora identifies that “the more saccharine the name, the worse the place,” which is both funny and heartbreaking. The humour, often close to the bone, is hilarious. In a throwaway comment Flora remarks that “We could organise a break out but we’d never have enough mobility scooters.”
Flora is not one of the “Ladies in Lavender,” growing old gracefully. She is an angry seeker of vengeance and justice. Beneath the Blue Rinse is polemical; packed with scathingly humorous and myth-busting scenes and information about the lives of older people. Flora intermittently tortures Simon in order for him to understand the elder abuse and misery suffered by people in care homes. Her accomplice, another older person, George, played authentically by Ian Redford, is her friend with benefits- smashing yet another stereotype, this time about elders’ sex lives. It is very comical when George demonstrates the havoc that ageing can wreak on the body; Flora cruelly replicates his aches and pains by kneecapping Simon. This is hilarious, not just because the violence is cartoon-like, but because it seems justified by Simon’s exploitation and nastiness towards elders and people in general.
Although, sometimes like its subject matter, Beneath the Blue Rinse sags a bit in the middle, it is a rib-cracking satire which is so funny, I now have a washboard stomach- well at least I should- from the amount of belly laughs there are throughout Tom Glover’s cleverly written political play. The dialogue is sharp, the one-liners come thick and fast and the message is loud and clear.
All photos by Ben Wilkin
Beneath the Blue Rinse is at Park Theatre from 21 May to 15 June 2019 www.parktheatre.co.uk