This fascinating story of two women’s attempts to decriminalise prostitution is surprisingly heartwarming – even if none of the characters have any real depth to them.

Rumpy Pumpy! 3 The cast Photo Scott Rylande.jpg
The cast of Rumpy Pumpy! Photograph by Scott Rylander. 

Based on a true story, Barbara Jane Mackie’s musical follows the story of Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels, two brave ladies from the Hampshire Women’s Institute who decide to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution and to improve conditions for Working Girls everywhere.

Their journey sees them visiting Navada, New Zealand and Amsterdam in their quest to find the ‘perfect brothel’ as a model for brothels in the UK -with much fun to be had along the way.

Intertwined with this is Holly Spencer and her brothel, which is constantly in trouble with the police and the lives of the girls who work there, offering a somewhat romanticised outlook of the grim reality of their lives.

Simon Greiff’s production zips along with great pace, but there is just a lack of finesse about the production in terms of character development, meaning that by the end everything is resolved almost too neatly. Yet, on the other side of this the production is intensely focused on bringing the story itself to life and has the right cast to do this with.

Louise Jameson as Jean, one of the ladies from the Women’s Institute, has plenty to offer in terms of honesty and naturalness in her performance to make her character as genuine as possible – her varied expressions in reaction to some of the things that she sees on her character’s journey say more than a thousand words could. Linda Nolan meanwhile as Holly Spencer, a brothel owner constantly being arrested has plenty of of spirit and attitude to keep the production lively as her constant run ins with DC Hecks prove.

There is also great support from Claudia Cadette as Mags, Liberty Buckland as Carol and Sally Frith as Goisa – working girls doing what they can to survive.

The show manages to transform attitudes towards prostitution from being this sleazy and seedy part of society that people prefer to not think about to helping to understand why women might be forced into this position and why men feel the need to visit a brothel other than sex – but is also more about companionship and a desperate need to alleviate the feeling of loneliness as we see from the variety of characters popping into Holly’s brothel.

Musically, Barbara Jane Mackie has created a number of strong songs including ‘Rumpy Pumpy’ and ‘The Perfect Brothel’ are hilarious but honest and that is something that comes through all the way through the production, but overall the music feels awkwardly placed and Rumpy Pumpy! would work better as a drama or comedy.

Yet, the audience is drawn into the story which offers a completely different perspective of the lives of Working Girls. But it is still lacking in depth in terms of the backstories to the characters, which means the cast aren’t given a lot to work with. Entertaining to some extent but a fascinating story to watch to come to life.

Rumpy Pumpy! plays at the Union Theatre until the 19th November. For more information and to book tickets visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤