Anyone with a memory for pop culture might recognise the title of Catherine Johnson’s 1998 comedy. Nearly a quarter-century before, it was the name of both a hit song by the Scottish band Bay City Rollers and, a year later, a short-lived TV series built around those ‘tartan teen sensations’.
Johnson herself is best known as the author of Mamma Mia! This earlier work, set in a West Country holiday camp, is imbued with a tone of rueful but still rollicking nostalgia.
Robert Wolstenholme’s enjoyably slick, snappy production for Signal Theatre Company remains true to the often rudely unsentimental stance of Johnson’s coarsely funny script. The premise is a disastrous weekend away for Pauline (Lisa Kay), about to turn 40 and feeling eternally single. In attendance are her best mate Jackie (Kellie Batchelor), maybe not so enviably married with children, and tag-along Lauren (Samantha Edmonds), a shamelessly shambolic free spirit. Chums since schooldays, in their youth these three were dyed-in-the-wool ‘Rollerettes’. The fun comes when they hook up with a couple of nicely contrasted blokes (Thomas Craig, as a divorced dad and hard-bitten romantic, and the younger Ben McGregor) in a Rollers tribute band.
You could call Shang-A-Lang a coming-of-middle-age story. Skilfully, Johnson mines the vital laughter lodged inside people whose culturally and emotionally stunted lives are littered with regrets, disappointments and lost chances. Neatly staged on a set festooned with wall-to-wall silver streamers, the show mixes life lessons with verbal zingers. It’s conspicuously well cast and played, especially by Craig and the scene-stealing Edmonds as a slapper determined not to just lick life’s pleasures but to guzzle them down.