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Theatre Review: Nicola Cheeseman is Back

The curse of ageing is something most of us dread, an inevitability that, no matter how hard we try, will catch up with us. It’s a thing ripe with grief and of course comedy. Getting older has its compensations in terms of learned wisdom, but it can also bring with it infirmity and anxiety. 

This is the scenario faced by the eponymous Nicola in Kathryn Burnett’s new one-woman play Nicola Cheeseman is Back

Nicola (Jodie Rimmer) is a fifty something year old divorced mother of two whose body is letting her down. 

She describes the panic she felt when looking in the mirror one day she noticed ‘definite subsidence’, how her face ‘suddenly made a unilateral decision to start shifting around of its own accord’.

She noticed other things such as ‘hair relocation’ and ‘Schrodinger’s crepe’.  If you’re middle-aged or older, you know exactly what that means.

Clearly depressed, the heroine reminisces about her youth and the nouveau punk band she was in with four other rock chicks – The Cherry Slits. They all had such big dreams. 

What she’s ended up some thirty years later is working in a job she hates, looking after her ailing father, elderly mother-in-law and her two kids who are quite a handful. Meanwhile her ex-husband is dating a much younger woman but still hovers round wanting tea and sympathy from Nicola and, it has to be said, sometimes more.

It’s time for a change, and so Nicola embarks on a quest to reunite with her former bandmates, recapture her youth, and bring the Cherry Slits out of retirement.

It’s not of course a simple quest, it is one filled with dramatic challenges. 

The play adroitly captures the journey of this woman through the agonies of soul searching, introspection, and regret and how all of that can lead to something new and a desire for re-invention. 

Jodie Rimmer is quite remarkable as Nicola. She manages to bring together a complex character full of acidic wit and piercing observations but also agonisingly self-aware of her failings and grief struck over all she feels she has lost. 

What is clever about the script and Rimmer’s delivery is that as observers, we can see that Nicola is actually pretty cool but she can’t see it herself being too bogged down with memories and seemingly failed dreams. Who can’t relate to that? How often do others see our greatness yet we only see a two dimensional image of ourselves reflected in both real and metaphorical mirrors. 

I’ll be crass about it, Nicola Cheeseman is Back is a fucking funny and wondrously observant play about not letting age get you down. Jodie Rimmer is such a star who’s exquisite portrayal of this fiery, courageous women makes me regret she’s fictional coz I’d love to meet her in real life. But then again, when I think about her courage, her introspection, her wit, her creativity, and the type of woman she represents, I realise, I have already met her.  

Photo credit – Sylvanna Andzakovic


19 June – 7 July 2024

Herald Theatre – Auckland 

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