Cuckoo Review –

Miss Crispy 1988

Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne 8 May 2013


Unknown-1Picking up my ticket for Miss Crispy 1988, I was warned that it would be difficult to avoid dancing to the retro soundtrack. It was true; with the boxes of KP crisps littering the stage and ‘Agadoo’ on in the background, it’s enough to make anyone feel nostalgic for ‘better times’. The play, written and directed by David Tuffnell and  produced by Middlesbrough’s less is MORE theatre company, is firmly rooted in Teesside’s history. The story was inspired by an image of a ‘Miss KP Foods’ pageant winner and  the experiences of real women  from the area.  The play follows a group of women working on the crisp packaging assembly line in Billingham, each with aspirations to claim the title of “Miss Crispy 1988”.

The most important thing to say about Miss Crispy is that it is hilarious and absurd yet utterly realistic, with heaps of North-Eastern charm and peppered with a darkness which rounds the characters. There wasn’t a member of the cast who didn’t have a tale to tell; the innocent of the group, Pam – played wonderfully by Wendie Middleton – was a particular hit, with a style proving that girls really do just wanna have fun. The women’s journey to the ‘Miss Crispy’ final is laden with tears and tantrums and  snapshots of their audition line-up are woven in to to great comic effect, with Pip Chamberlin acting as both the seedy interviewer and a throwback to Saturday night telly with his Host of the final.

At the heart of the show is the relationships between the women – Betty, played by Doreen Frankland, acts as matriarch and union rep to the girls, and their bonding over cheese and onion flavouring leads to various touching moments. The women support each other in times of personal upheaval; however, is the undercurrent of friction provided by newcomer Sarah (played by Nichola Lagan). And there is a wonderful backwards love story between Line 2 girl Anne, played by Victoria Holtom and her fiancée Tom.

Stan Hodgson – playing Tom –  said of his time working on ‘Miss Crispy’ that “It was a pleasure looking at the real people of Middlesbrough; there were great laughs to be had with it and getting down to my kegs on stage was certainly a unique experience!”. And if that’s not an incentive to catch the show, then I don’t know what is.

Read the review here

Remote Goat –

“Five factory girls survive life” by Anna Ambelez  for remotegoat on 10/05/13

Set in the late 1980’s ‘Miss Crispy 1988’ takes place in a crisp factory. Five girls working there reveal their work and family relationships. Union leader Betty (Doreen Frankland) the mother figure with a family of six, at least at the last count!; Denise (Laura Lonsdale) the single girl is the ‘hard faced’ worker and always full on; Pam (Wendie Middleton) a long term worker at the factory lives with her folks and has ‘toilet’ problems!; Anne (Victoria Holtom) the youngest, engaged and pregnant; Sarah (Nichala Lagan) the latest recruit, a married mother obviously has domestic problems; Anne’s fiancee Tom (Stan Hodgson) provided the male interest in more ways than one! An unusual beauty pageant throws them together, who will reign supreme and win the crown, in the contest and in life? The pageant host and interviewer (Pip Chamberlin) provides the outside man.
It bravely tackles extremely sensitive, difficult themes and even manages to do this through comedy, not an easy brief. Incest, rejection, paedophiles, loneliness, illegitimacy, and more are covered in this play. Although raw, a stirling effort for a first full length play and for five women, it is to be applauded. All the characters have varied backgrounds waiting to be developed; clues are given as the play unfolds but only two are really tackled in a highly charged scene in the second half. A great opportunity is lost to make these women real and not two dimensional, they all have stories to tell, but most are only hinted at. The production hinders this, being a continual series of short scenes in various locations, more suited to TV or film than stage. This involves numerous semi blackouts when the cast move the set around, as a result no scene is long enough to build any pace or develop characters. Although each scene moves the ‘story’ on, it does little more. The characters are competently played, but only Tom appears real, possibly because his performance is understated, it is not necessary to be ‘big’ in a studio performance, use should be made of its intimacy.
less is MORE Productions was formed in 2009 by Laura Lonsdale and David Tuffnell. It aims to provide openings for Northern Eastern performers and help develop original work and talent. It tries to produce innovative work for UK regional touring theatre. The company was fortunate enough to receive a grant from Middlesbrough Council’s Art Development team two years ago, oh happy days! The brief centred on Middlesbrough’s past and present and led to David Tufnell writing this play after conducting several interviews with Middlesbrough women.
The appreciative audience, laughing out loud, left with many complimentary comments .The girls strive for the pageant title and supremacy in the play, there can only be one winner and the play needs to decide which subject reigns. There are shades of ‘Steel Magnolias’, shades of ‘Dinner Ladies’, shades of ‘Stepping Out’ and others, all good, but too many shades, less is more.

Read the review here

“Theatre to make you smile” by Alli Davies  on 11/05/13

The play is set in the in late 1980s and evokes the era perfectly, referencing music, fashion and events of the time. Action centres around a beauty contest in a Teesside crisp factory and the lives of five contestants are revealed. Secrets come to light, issues are explored, and there are plenty of laughs along the way. There’s even an unexpected delivery on packing line 2.
The script is well written and zips along, planting clues about each of the characters as it does so. A few scenes feel a little rushed which hinders the narrative flow somewhat, but this doesn’t stop the piece from being enjoyable.
Sensitive issues are handled with a lightness of touch that makes them all the more powerful and poignant. It takes courage to tackle things like child abuse, loneliness, rejection and illegitimacy through comedy and Miss Crispy 1988 should be applauded for doing so in a manner that means the laughs never feel gratuitous. Comedy is counterpointed by a particularly highly charged scene in the second act.
Greater character development would strengthen the piece further, as this was the one weakness that stood out. This warm, funny and affectionate hymn to Teesside ends with the sense that each of the five women has more stories waiting to be told.

Read the review here

NARC Magazine –

Coming Soon…

Customs House Youth Theatre –

The Young Reviewers group The Customs House, South Shields by Jayden Blacklock for @lessisMOREproductions ‘Miss Crispy 88’

‘Miss Crispy 1988’ was written by David Tuffnell, and it was performed here at the Customs House on the 17th-18th of June. The show was performed by seven cast members from ‘less is MORE Productions’.
The inspiration for the show came from a pic…ture of a woman in a sash which read ‘Miss KP Foods 1988’, and after a series of interviews with women from Teesside about life in the eighties, the story line started to form.
The show follows the lives of five women (Betty, Denise, Anne, Sarah and Pam) working on Line Five in a crisp factory in Middlesbrough, and each women has entered a competition in which the prize is to become crowned ‘Missy Crispy 1988’. Throughout the course of the play, you learn about each of the women’s lives; and some secrets are uncovered. The production was filled with humour, however it also built suspense by using black outs just as a character was about to reveal something, so the storyline kept you engaged and intrigued.
A particularly poignant scene is when Denise, played by Laura Lonsdale, and Sarah, played by Nichola Lagan, become embroiled in an argument that quickly gets out of hand, however both actresses portrayed this extremely well, and the emotion they showed was incredibly realistic. In saying this, all of the actors in the performance were extremely believable, making us as the audience connect with each character.
This was a fantastic show which made the audience laugh, however it also touched upon serious issues. I would definitely recommend ‘less is MORE Productions’ and I can’t wait to see what they produce next.

Read the review here

Evening Gazette –

Miss Crispy 1988: Play set in Teesside set for nationwide tour 8 May 2013 00:00

A play set in Teesside is about to begin a nationwide tour

Wendie Middleton, Laura Lonsdale and Nichola Lagan at rehearsal

Wendie Middleton, Laura Lonsdale and Nichola Lagan at rehearsal

A PLAY set in Teesside is about to begin a nationwide tour.

Miss Crispy 1988 proved such a hit when it premiered at Middlesbrough Theatre last year, the play is back with a tour and its opening night is tomorrow.

Written and directed by David Huffnell, who grew up in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, it tells the story of a beauty pageant with a difference.

It is based on a series of interviews with women who worked in the KP Foods Factory in Billingham although the characters and storyline is fictional.

“It is based in Middlesbrough and it namechecks places such as Romer Parrish and events that did happen but the characters are fictional,” said David, 34, who now lives in Tollesby, Middlesbrough.

“I was inspired by a photograph I saw in the Gazette’s Remember When.

“It was a picture of a lady who had won KP Foods 1988 and that’s where the initial idea came from. I decided to write a play about a beauty pageant set in an everyday kind of job.

“By chance I knew someone whose mother had worked in the factory and she gave me a couple of stories.

“I then spent time researching the time – pop culture, news stories at that time.

“It’s the first thing I’ve written and it took me about a year to finish it. One of the most important things to me was to keep its setting in Middlesbrough. There is a local attitude of ‘just getting on with it’ which people in Middlesbrough, in Teesside are like.”

The play is set in a factory and features a group of five women who dream of something more exciting in their lives.

Sarah, Denise and everyone else who works on Line 2 want a change because life can’t be all about packets of cheese and onion crisps.

It is set at the end of 1987 and the start of 1988.

The production is presented by less is MORE Productions, which is dedicated to making opportunities for young performers in the North-east and helping to develop original theatre artists.

It was set up in 2009 by Laura Lonsdale, also from Middlesbrough, and David, who studied together at ALRA and LAMDA.

Miss Crispy 1988 opens at Theatre Royal in Newcastle tomorrow and runs until Saturday and will also be performed at Danby Village Hall – where the promotional film was made, Customs House in South Shields and Blackfriar Arts Centre in Lincolnshire.

Read the article here

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