Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Book Review • A Fanny Full of Soap • Nichola McAuliffe

A Fanny Full of Soap: The Story of a West End Disaster: The Story of a West End Musical

I may just have found the perfect beach read. Nichola McAuliffe is primarily known for her acting work and while A Fanny Full of Soap is not her first foray into fiction, it must surely be the one most directly based on her own experiences. Remember that Salsa musical? Yes, that one.

It is no surprise that my attempts to interview McAuliffe after the show closed came to nothing: why on earth would she tell all when her best revenge was to come in the form of this gloriously funny book?

Murderous Instincts at the Savoy in 2004 has already gone down in theatrical history as one of the worst examples of vanity producing and short-lived runs. The stories that leaked and the direct comments made by McAuliffe and others, served to make American producers Manny and Cinda Fox – she wrote the book and lyrics to a score by Puerto Rican composer Alberto Carrion – a laughing-stock on this side of the Atlantic, if not everywhere else, even before it reached London.

The show opened in the Strand on 7 October and closed a mere nine days later. At some point between the out-of-town tryout in Norwich and the Savoy opening, McAuliffe described the situation as a “motorway pile-up”. Sackings, sudden replacements, re-hirings, talentless ‘West End Wendies’, incompetence, unpaid wages, all leading to the delay of previews, were not the least of it. It’s all here and so close to the reality that one wonders how on earth the lawyers allowed it all through.

Eleanor Woodwarde, a soap star on her uppers whose marriage is failing and whose son won’t speak to her, chooses to accept a West End musical as an alternative to suicide. The first couple of chapters are such a detailed exploration of marriage to the kind of man who only has time for himself and, rather like Mr Manningham in Gaslight, is adept at making his wife feel that everything which is going wrong is her fault, that I almost wanted this part of the story to continue unhindered by theatrical shenanigans. Eleanor’s carefully prepared suicide note demonstrates perfectly how such men put their women down: ‘I have just seen you with Phyllida and although the sight hurt me deeply I can only imagine the pain I must have caused you to make you turn to her for comfort’. God help us!

But there’s nothing like a theatre crew to put things in perspective by not treating you with kid gloves. “So they’ve got you back, have they? I thought you were in a home,” says Basher, the production manager, before offering Eleanor a sherry.

Once rehearsals are underway and the range of characters is displayed for our delectation, it is impossible to put the book down. I read it in one sitting, forgetting all my boring problems. When the show is in big trouble and the company are fractured beyond repair, Eleanor comments on the power of the work to obliterate life: ‘Although David and Phyllida were the problem that had catapulted me into the emotional quicksands I now inhabited, I couldn’t think about them. They and my neglected son had become unreal – my present feelings more vivid in pain and pleasure than anything since Arthur’s birth’.

This is a great read, whether you know about the theatrical world or not – any unfamiliar terms can be checked in the glossary at the back – but if you know your theatre, you will hoot with laughter, especially if you’ve experienced one or other element yourself. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it laid to rest the distasteful residue left from some of my past experiences. McAuliffe has written the revenge novel for us all!

If you haven’t already found something to pack with the sunscreen, A Fanny Full of Soap should be it.

Sarah Vernon © 2007

Originally published on 01-07-07


From the Savoy website 2014:

The Savoy Theatre received major snow and ice damage during January and we are in the midst of repairs and renovations. If you would like to make a donation to the Savoy Theatre you can do so in person or by phone at the Theatre 842-1577. If you are making a donation of $500.00 or more please make you cheque to: CBRM “Savoy Theatre in Trust” and you will be issued a tax receipt.

One comment on “Book Review • A Fanny Full of Soap • Nichola McAuliffe

  1. First Night Design

    Reblogged this on Rogues & Vagabonds and commented:

    I am still struggling on without a computer! In the meantime, have a splendid Christmas and New Year!

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