Deborah’s husband has just retired and while he’s busy with his new found lease on life, Deb has discovered the love of a good book.
Roger Hall’s 1999 play, The Book Club, is a show that seems to have been perfectly designed for Amanda Muggleton. For those of us who saw her in Shirley Valentine in the early 90s – and since she played that role over 1000 times, there are a few of us – this showcase for Muggleton feels like sequel. But while Shirley was heading into middle age and feeling in a rut, Deborah is much more comfortable in her life – until she joins the book club. In both cases, though, their husbands are pushing them away and these two women try to make a more exciting life for themselves.
I’ve seen Muggleton on stage several times in the last 25 years, but watching her in another solo play brought back a lot of memories of the first time I saw her on stage. This show, though, isn’t about regaining youth, but appreciating what you have in life. Deb might have resisted joining the book club, but once she’s there, we know she’s loving every minute of it.
Muggleton transforms herself into each of the women in the book club and sometimes a dog or a baby that looks like Barnaby Joyce. The up-to-date and local references (Hall is a New Zealand playwright) are both funny and a bit on-the-nose and some of the broad accents Muggleton uses for the other characters grated after a while.
Where Muggleton shines is digging into Deb’s flaws and frustrations; when the show focuses on Deb being Deb – and dealing with the affections of an author she invites to speak at the book club – the audience is in great hands. For 90 minutes, Muggleton prances, dances and strides around the stage and occasionally on the treadmill. There’s a lot of literary references – both to recent best sellers and to classics – that made last night’s audience gasp and laugh and verbalise their recognition. And the character invites that. “Have you read this?” “Did you see where I put my phone?” “You’ve seen that before, haven’t you?!”
Director Nadia Tass wants the audience to feel like they are in Deb’s living room; I mean, that’s what the set is. But Deb wants you to be there, too. That’s where she feels most comfortable; telling you about her days and her dalliances. Talking about books and love and Anna Karenina and happiness.
Muggleton has played this role on and off for years, just like she did with Shirley, and 25 years later, her energy is palpable. It’s good to know Shirley still retains the same energy at Deborah’s age.