Ladies Down Under offers perfect blend of humour and heart as sequel heads to New Vic

It’s an incredibly rare occurrence for a play to be granted a sequel, – something typically reserved for books, films and television shows. But much like how I find myself bookmarking Netflix series ahead of their new season, or pre-ordering the next Thursday Murder Club book, I simply couldn’t wait to see the second ‘Ladies’ instalment from Amanda Whittington as it made its way to the New Vic Theatre.

We first became acquainted with Pearl, Jan, Linda and Shelley last year for Ladies Day, where the fish factory workers won big at the horse races at the 2005 York Royal Ascot. Set two years on at the height of Ugg boots and Juicy Couture tracksuits, Ladies Down Under reunites audiences with the gang to see them spend part of their £500,000 winnings on the trip of a lifetime to Australia.

Andrew Billington

Continuing the journey of the four spirited women from the original story, Jan is hoping to reunite with former manager and love interest Joe, while Shelley is hoping to get scouted by a modelling agency having spent the majority of her winnings on Gucci purses and Prada heels. Meanwhile, Linda and Pearl seem to be going simply for the thrill of it, but much like in Ladies Day, as the story progresses, each character shares a part of their soul with the audience, giving weight and emotion to an otherwise lighthearted comedy.

The characters are as vibrant and relatable as ever, with Amanda Whittington masterfully capturing the essence of female friendship, from rows to reconciliations, secrets to unwavering support. And what’s even more lovely is that the talented cast, who effortlessly embody their characters, has remained the same, including Staffordshire’s own Gareth Cassidy as Joe.

Andrew Billington

I’ve seen Gareth perform numerous roles over the years, from Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin to Denry Machin, and with every character he plays he injects them with heaps of humour and loveability. In Ladies Down Under, as well as ex-fish plant manager Joe, he plays a beach bum and a drag queen ‘Koala Bare’ – all of which he fully immerses himself in. Gold hot pants, and all.

And as well as our much-loved ladies, Annie Kirkman as the ‘shallow’ fame-seeking Shelley,  Jo Patmore as well-meaning but naive Linda, a somewhat insecure Jan portrayed by Tanya-Loretta Dee and Kate Wood’s ‘Mother hen’ Pearl, we are also introduced to a new face in the form of Richard Lund as Aussie Danny. Being a legitimate Australian gives his character a real sense of authenticity, while his friendship with Joe and chemistry with the rest of the cast allows him to seamlessly slot into this well established team. But it’s his portrayal of drag queen Bondi Bitch could give Ru Paul a run for his money.

Andrew Billington

Fun and frocks aside, Ladies Down Under also isn’t afraid to delve into more poignant moments, including some heartbreaking news from Pearl, while Linda is able to rediscover their identity at Mardi Gras. 

With its sharp wit, lovable characters, and touching moments, Ladies Down Under offers the perfect balance of humour and heart. Its mid-to-late noughties setting gives viewers a wave of nostalgia from iPhones (they won’t catch on) to a cleverly crafted playlist, while its Aussie backdrop allows for plenty of laugh-out-loud moments about Kylie, koalas, Neighbours and more.

It’s a must-see for fans of the original play and newcomers alike, as you don’t necessarily need to have seen the first one to enjoy and appreciate Down Under. Running until March 30, you can buy your tickets here at the New Vic Theatre website.

Andrew Billington
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