Les neiges d’aujourd’hui

These have been seven days of my life dominated by women – mostly young women, some of them stars in the making, and one middle-aged woman whom you might not look at twice in the street but who is an actress (yes, actress, female, thank you) whom I quite simply worship, an already blazing star.

The scenes: the shores of Argos, a Preston football ground, a nondescript university in America. The players: the Chorus, the Team, the alcoholic Wife.

Act 1: If I’d known that The Royal Exchange’s The Suppliant Women was not going to be a “proper” play – you know, “enter stage right, he says, she says, exeunt omnes, curtain”; that it was going to be entirely chanted or sung, danced or moved to; that only two musicians were involved on just three instruments; then I’d probably have opted for a bike ride or a walk along the Leeds and Liverpool. But I thought you can’t go wrong with a Greek play, so I went, ignorant of what awaited me in both form and substance. Which turned out a play in which the Chorus of twenty young women were the play instead of the commentary. Twenty women aged from just 16 to 26, amateurs all, volunteers to boot. So no pay, no professional training prior to the hours and hours of immense physical and mental workloads and the dedication they were expected to put in for this show.

And I watched literally open-mouthed for 90 minutes as, almost in touching distance of me, this team performed movements and dance routines so complex and non-repeating as to leave a tangled ball of wool looking like an M&S jumper; and chanted impassioned appeals to the gods and howled of their fears in song and sounds to melodies and strains so dissonant and elaborate they made Stockhausen sound like the Laughing Policeman. What they did flawlessly that afternoon would have taxed seasoned professionals.

Suppliant Women Mar 2017Refrain: From start to finish they were on-stage and involved, constantly moving, working, fighting, imploring. They were defiant. They blazed. They burned me up. I fell in love with them all. I went home on the tram in a daze.

Act 2: And so a few days later to Preston and the grandiosely named Sir Tom Finney Stadium, shabby home of Bamber Bridge FC, to watch Blackburn Rovers Ladies FC take on Derby Women’s FC to try to clinch the Women’s Northern Premier League and a play-off place for promotion to the Super Premier. I know some of them now, at least by name – Saffy, an old-fashioned bruiser of a centre-forward, the Alan Shearer of the side; Ella, 18, a beautifully balanced winger in the skilful beat-three-and-cross-it mould of Bryan Douglas of the 50s Rovers; and Dani, who serves me my Saturday pint at the King’s, and who has improved so markédly since the start of the season as she rejoined the club from Bradford. I was expecting a good game.

What I got was a classic in the end, Rovers equalising twice, making life hard for themselves until the final 30 minutes when, as I watched in some terror from behind the goal, wave after wave of blue and white attackers hammered the Derby defence till it broke for the winner and wild scenes of Champions’ dancing and delight. As at Manchester I’d been privileged, even awestruck to see so much fire, skill and dedication from a group of young women, these intent on telling the world that women’s football isn’t just a hobby, it’s a passion. And a right. And, of course, wonderful entertainment.

BRLFC League Winners 2017Refrain: From start to finish they were in Derby’s face, and involved, constantly moving, working, fighting, imploring. They were defiant. They blazed. They burned me up. I fell in love with them all. I went home in the car in a daze.

Act 3: Few things get me willingly to London, but Imelda Staunton is a racing certainty, plague, hot coals or floods no barrier. So, on Wednesday, to the old Comedy Theatre (for just £15!) to see her Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’d not seen the play before, to my shame. That it was worth the delay of 60 years is litotes of the finest order. Imelda simply tore George and us audience apart in different ways. This ordinary little woman, with the impish grin, who so enchanted me in Sweeney Todd, and broke my heart twice in Gypsy, now turned into a snarling, acidic, contempt-filled alcoholic wife intent on giving her empty depressed life meaning by verbally stabbing and humiliating her long-suffering husband for his inadequacies. She’d acted both Michael Ball and the casts of Sweeney and Gypsy off the stage previously. It didn’t quite happen this time – George was equally brilliantly played – but she was the focus of all eyes and ears when she was on. All of 4’11” – and utterly hypnotic, compelling. A talent in a million.

Imelda Staunton 01Refrain: From start to finish she was in my head, involved, constantly moving, working, fighting, imploring. She was defiant. She blazed. She burned me up. I fell in love with her all over again. For the third? fourth time? I went home on the train in a daze.

Three unmissables. Three extraordinary events in one week I’ll not forget, probably ever. And all done by gloriously exuberant talented joyous female youth with an older, wilier, experienced female, the Pride’s Chief Lioness, showing the way.

Life’s been a bit dull since….