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New recipe for Almodovar's spicy love soup

Approved by ATG's PR & Communications Officer, David Bradbury

By Baz Bamigboye for the Daily Mail

Tamsin Greig will be the calming influence behind Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. The award-winning actress will star in the stage musical of Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 film about Pepa, a Spanish voiceover actress who loses her balance - but regains it - after her lover Ivan leaves her for another woman.

That’s the short version, but it’s much more deliciously complicated (and funnier) than that.

In Tamsin’s own words, Almodovar’s movie ‘expresses the lurid poetry of loss’.

She described it as a ‘weird amalgam of things that shouldn’t work well together, but do . . . like looking at a bipolar person’s wardrobe’.

She quipped that parts of the film might as well be called Carry On Up The Gazpacho, a reference I will explain later.

As for director Bartlett Sher, the actress is the show’s saviour. ‘She could be Queen Elizabeth, for Christ’s sake, she’s so composed and powerful!’ he said. ‘We would not be doing this without her.’

The musical will start preview performances at the Playhouse Theatre in London on December 20, with an official opening night of January 12.

Sher directed it in New York four years ago, with a big Broadway cast. The critics shredded it.

I thought it was bloated. But I also I felt that if it could be scaled down, with some elements jettisoned, it just might work.

Sher concedes that last time round, he went over the top. With everything. But he and impresario Howard Panter, of ATG, still believed in the show.

Since then, Sher has worked with creators Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek and recalibrated the piece.

The band is now five-strong (it was 16). An irritating taxi driver has been calmed down and will narrate. Some songs have been axed, others re-written and moved around, while the book has been re-structured and simplified. Sets and costumes have been toned down, too.

‘You could easily misread Pedro’s film,’ Sher said. ‘My memory of it is very vivid, in terms of colour; very full, bright, and over-sized. But when you go back and watch it, it’s none of those things,’ he told me when he, Tamsin and I met at the Charlotte Street Hotel in central London.

The director conducted a couple of workshops in London with Tamsin (Almodovar was there as an observer), and, miraculously, the show came together.

‘Tamsin has transformed it!’ Sher cried, a sentiment I heard from many others.

The New York show forgot that Women On The Verge is a farce, and this actress can do farce. She has razor-sharp comic reflexes, as has been demonstrated in her TV hits Episodes, Green Wing and Friday Night Dinner.

Tamsin was intrigued by the musical because it made her laugh.

‘And to allow women of this generation to have voices and talk about how they feel, or sing about it, was a factor,’ she added. ‘It doesn’t emasculate men, but it celebrates women.’

And who knew she could sing? Sher told me: ‘Her voice is amazing and strong.’

Tamsin admitted that the workshops terrified her: ‘I did it all on adrenaline. I’ve never been more scared - or more elated.’

She took her children to Thorpe Park before the performances and went on one of the big rides. ‘I thought my intestines were hanging out of my nostrils,’ she recalled. ‘It was living terror, and that’s what I felt like in the workshop.’  

And then there’s that gazpacho . . .

In the film, Pepa is feeling suicidal. So she mixes up a batch of the spicy chilled soup, with added sedatives, and puts the lethal blend in the fridge.

It’s one of the best farcical plot points, but I won’t give any more away.

The autumn season for musicals is looking strong, what with the sublime story of the Kinks, Sunny Afternoon, headed to the Harold Pinter late in September; Made In Dagenham, which has a great score and ensemble, taking over the Adelphi in October; Memphis going to the Shaftesbury; and now Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Let’s hope none of them go into meltdown.