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A Round-Heeled Woman, Riverside Studios | reviews, news & interviews

A Round-Heeled Woman, Riverside Studios

A Round-Heeled Woman, Riverside Studios

Sharon Gless is terrific as a woman who discovers her libido in her sixties

Sharon Gless has her 'When Harry Met Sally' momentGeorge Schiavone

Sharon Gless is best known for her role as Detective Christine Cagney in Cagney & Lacey, and then to another generation in the American version of Queer as Folk and currently in the drama Burn Notice.

Gless's sexy voice and feisty demeanour in several of her roles has prompted many a fantasy over the years – for men and women, gay and straight - so it's apt that the actress, now a very fit-looking 68 and still in possession of a throaty laugh, is playing a woman who discovers her sexuality in her late sixties.

A Round-Heeled Woman is an adaptation of Jane Juska’s bestselling book of the same name, subtitled My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, which chronicles the sexual encounters the retired high-school English teacher and Anthony Trollope obsessive had after placing a personal ad in The New York Review of Books: “Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” Juska received 63 replies, from men aged between 32 and 84, and now Jane Prowse (who also directs) has adapted it for the stage. A round-heeled woman, by the way, is a Victorian phrase for a prostitute: their heels would be rounded down by walking on cobbles.

It's rather affecting to see mature libidos treated with respect

The play opens with Gless having phone sex with one of her admirers. It's a brave directorial move as at least some of the audience may squirm at this; porn aficionados may like it, but watching someone simulate a masturbatory orgasm on stage will never be a comfortable experience – do it too well and it feels like an intrusion, do it badly and it's risible. But Gless – not for the first time in a play that occasionally struggles to transcend its subject matter – pulls it off (sorry) as she assures her lover she is alone, telling him she would never do this in front of an audience. She leaps off the bed, gives the audience a knowing look – Gless's comic timing is, as ever, impeccable - and addresses them directly to start the story.

Juska tells us how with her friends (played by Jane Bertish and Beth Cordingly) she decided which of her respondents she decided to meet - one of them mistook Trollope for trollop, another slept with her simply to prove he still could at the age of 82, while another was still playing the field in his sixties. We also hear snippets from Juska's sexually repressed childhood and how books became her passion after she divorced, explaining why she hasn't had a lover in more than 30 years.

Prowse's play is mostly schematic, save the occasional flashback in the telling of Juska's broken relationship with her only child, Andy, and the scenes in which the Trollope heroine that she runs to in moments of doubt, in a “what would Miss Mackenzie do?” kind of way, appears. These scenes are well integrated and deliver a few laughs of their own. As Miss M is considering whether to accept her cousin's marriage proposal, Gless barks: “You're on page 247 of 249 pages. Your options are limited.”

The supporting cast of five – for this is, with absolutely no disrespect to them, a star vehicle – play multiple roles and are uniformly terrific as they paint the light and shade in Juska's descriptions of her encounters, some comic, some troubling and some heartwarming, particularly her assignations with Graham (Michael Thomson), who also pointedly (calling Dr Freud) and disconcertingly plays both Andy and Miss Mackenzie's suitor. Barry McCarthy and Neil McCaul play Juska's various lovers and her long-dead father.

Despite the occasional line for the feeble-minded – we don't need to be told that Trollope was a great Victorian novelist, for instance – and a cringe-making schmaltzy moment of mother-son reconciliation, Prowse's script mostly avoids Hollywood dross and it's rather affecting to see mature libidos treated with respect, compassion and a nicely comic touch.

  • A Round-Heeled Woman is at Riverside Studios, London W6 until 20 November
Gless – not for the first time in a play that occasionally struggles to transcend its subject matter – pulls it off. Her comic timing is impeccable


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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No sorry, I've seen the play. Very much used as a 'star vehicle' for Gless. Did she go to bed with the lovers absolutely clothed?. Coward. A momentary truthful comment from early lover that she is 'dry and should use KY jelly' but no hint of the problem from her. 30 years celibacy it wouldn't have been that easy All a big laugh, no ache, not poignancy so very different form the author who we met at the Question session. recast. please Remaining cast excellent especially Bertish and Thomson

Are you for real?!! Did you actually watch the same play I did? With the utmost repect to you and your opinion, when I read this I was compelled to comment. The play was so touching and poignant throughout, brutally honest and unafraid to portray Jane Juskas journey accurately and respectfully. The entire audience shed a tear, laughed and routed for Jane, and Ms Gless portrayed her perfectly. And to act the scenes she did, she deserves nothing but credit and admiration; I, for one, could not act those scenes and make them so believable. If the lady herself cried at Sharons performance, surely she is doing her justice? Again,with respect, but I just do not understand your comments.

I was moved to tears by the performance as were many in the audience. Men do not fare well, appearing to be selfish and thoughtless - such typecasting! As a male I was ashamed of my gender, but found the performances to be utterly captivating and Ms. Gless formidable. An excellent evening.

The play is exquisitely scripted, structured, and acted, definitely one to go and see. Sharon Gless gives an awesome performance - intensely sad one minute, funny the next, always fascinating to watch. She instantly makes the audience warm to the play and her character. If men appear to be stereotyped, remember that in the sphere of emotion and feeling men are all too often myopic and gropping in the dark compared to women. The play was psychologically sound and entertaining.

haron Gless is a totally amazing actor so I expected this to be great and it was! Sharon has the very rare capacity to become the person she portrays, to make you feel what she feels, and to make you laugh and make you cry. In this play she makes you do both. There is a great deal of wit and humour and Sharon is a master of comedic timing. One raised eyebrow in the right place can make you laugh out loud. On the other hand there is a great deal of pathos as this woman is lonely, she yearns to be loved and desired and Sharon makes you feel her pain and her disappointment as the men she meets let her down. The sub plot of the play involving Jane's son does however give an uplifting ending. The way 'Miss MacKenzie' (from Trollope's novel) is woven into the plot adds to the brilliance of the writing. The supporting actors are excellent and all in all it is a truly unmissable event. Plus it is never exactly the same twice! So don't just go once, go twice and take your friends !!

Sharon Gless is that special kind of actor who totally connects with the audience through her performance, so that you journey with her though this emotional rollercoaster.She has the ability to make you feel what she feels and also has the gift of comedic timing and nuances. One minute you are laughing and the next you are feeling her pain and lonliness with her as her suitors let her down and the void in her life due to her estranged son. The sub plot involving Trollope's 'Miss MacKenzie' is woven into the plot masterfully and provides much of the comedic moments. The play ends on an uplifting note after going through the whole spectrum of emotions.The supporting actors are all excellent in their multiple roles. This limitted run finishes soon on January 14th so dont miss the opportunity and treat yourself and take your friends .

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