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Hot Flushes, a new Country and Western musical comes to Camden People's Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

PART of the Calm Down Dear festival, new Country and Western musical Hot Flushes runs at Camden People’s Theatre from June 13 to June 15, 2019.

Hot Flushes – The Musical takes audiences back to 2016 and tells the story of a BHS worker, a pension age woman, who discovers that not only is her BHS pension in jeopardy, and her bus pass on hold, but her state pension has been postponed six years without warning.

In a twisted feminist reframing of the Western genre, tycoon Sir Phil Green is recast as a land-grabbing cattle baron and the menopause becomes a surge of female power.

When protaganist Sandra intercepts an American shoplifter, Patsy, during the BHS closing sales, she discovers she is a member of the Well-Armed Woman. Sandra learns to fire an air rifle and decides, if the Powers-That-Be won’t get her due, perhaps it’s time she turned vigilante folk hero and did it herself.

When BHS folded in 2016, former owner, Sir Phil Green, showed no sign of closing the £571 million pound hole in its pension fund, despite extracting hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends during his tenure.

In 2017, he came through with £370 million to top up the pension fund but only after 10 months of uncertainty. With 15,000 centenarians in the UK, the government faces real dilemmas about how to support people fairly in later life. But activists say targeting women is not the answer. For decades women weren’t allowed workplace pensions and their lump sums are generally worth a fraction of what men receive.

In the cast are Katy Sobel of Wassail Theatre, Charlie Coldfield of Wandering Tiger, Michelle Ridings, who has recently toured extensively as a suffragette in The Cause, and Dave Plimmer, who is well-known for his role in the TV series Count Arthur Strong.

Writer Lucy Bell talks about the inspiration behind the idea for the show: “When I listened to news stories about the collapse of BHS I felt a sense of outrage. BHS was the first Western chain to open in Moscow after Perestroika. It’s synonymous with comforting things like support tights and pot pourri. It felt like the natural habitat for Victoria Wood characters was being violated.

“Retirement age is a challenging time for lots of women, physically, emotionally, economically. I couldn’t believe that money which BHS staff had paid in had been spent without regard to the future, and 60 year old women were being told by the government that they were living too long, and needed to take up apprenticeships in nail bars! It got me thinking…what if one of those women decided she wasn’t going to take it lying down?

“The script was informed by interviews with former BHS employees and the dynamic 1950’s born women of the WASPI movement (Women Against State Pension Inequality), who campaign for fairer pension arrangements.

“I have seen my mother in law’s generation work longer, often at multiple low-paid jobs, than they ever dreamt they would. And they are doing this while juggling caring responsibilities for grandchildren and elderly parents. I wanted to make a show for these women who prop up society”

Speaking about Hot Flushes, director Anita Parry said: “It’s a show that will have the audiences cringing and laughing in recognition. Lucy Bell’s writing has both depth and humanity in dealing with a real issue. Casting has been absolute joy because the level of musicianship on the team is phenomenal. You can expect lush four part harmonies all set to live sax, and guitar arrangements in an evocative Country and Western style.”

Charlie Coldfield has composed and written lyrics for a raft of memorable songs, alongside musical director, Thomas Johnson, who has composed on numerous critically acclaimed shows for Theatre Alibi.

Tickets: £12/£10. To book, visit www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/calm-down-dear-hot-flushes/.

Time: 7.15pm.

Hot Flushes can also be seen at The Theatre Shop, Clevedon (May 17), Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol (June 6-8) and Exeter Fringe Festival (July 30).