Review: The Book Club
Discover our verdict on King’s Head Theatre’s latest production, which showcases Amanda Muggleton’s versatility like never before…
Drama veteran Amanda Muggleton feels she’s “closing the circle” as she brings her playful one-woman performance The Book Club to London’s King’s Head Theatre, the pub-turned-independent playhouse where she performed her first ever show after graduating from university.
The renowned theatre, television and film actress, who was born in London but found her success in Australia, opened her latest production in a small room tucked away at the back of the Upper Street venue. So cosy and intimate was the atmosphere that as we gathered around a bookshelf, a carpet, a table and a bright orange sofa, it almost felt like sitting in her real-life living room.
In fact, in this re-imagining of Roger Hall’s 1999 play of the same name, Muggleton plays middle-aged and middle-class Debs, a quirky woman who, as her sports-obsessed husband neglects her and her two daughters abandon the nest, decides to join a book club with her friend Trish.
Even though she’s innately driven by a passion for reading, the literary rendezvous revolves more about the people that surround her rather than the novels they’re supposed to discuss. Scolded for always sipping and never taking enough risks in life, Debs embarks on a spontaneous affair with the author of the book which she recommends to the club.
No matter how many characters join the scene at once, Muggleton’s talent shines through in all of them, as she impersonates men, women, and at one point even pretends she’s talking to a toddler with Donald Trump’s face.
Over the course of the play, she portrays a pregnant and cautious soul, a gloating mother with a snort, an eccentric Welsh woman whose accent she captures almost perfectly and a hilarious Greek character who can turn any sensitive word into a source of sexual tension.
Funny in a lightweight, sarcastic and purely enjoyable way, Amanda pulls off all sorts of facial expressions accompanied by little noises and smirks as she prances around the room and jumps up and down handling books and changing scarves.
Watch out in particular for the moment when, as Michael, she manages to describe intercourse from both points of view, resulting in Debs making rather hilarious, enveloping convulsions on the floor.
It’s to Muggleton’s credit that she also finds time to experiment with the ancient technique of metatheatre, directly addressing those female viewers who’ll understand her risqué gags, while subverting character stereotypes and throwing in literary allusions to sate other viewers’ appetites.
Energetic and peppy, yet gentle and clean, Amanda impersonates Debs in such a way that there is no telling them apart. In doing so, this candid storyteller lights up the room, serving up a night of entertainment from which the whole audience will come away more than satisfied.