Guest Blog: Lucy Bell on writing Hot Flushes the musical

Lucy Bell’s show Hot Flushes The Musical is at The Barnfield Theatre on Tuesday 30 July at 7pm.

I’ve always loved the high camp of technicolour 1950’s musicals (Seven Brides, Calamity Jane, West Side Story)…And department stores. As a child I had a goldilocks-type fantasy about being locked in one, testing the beds, smashing the vases, flicking through magazines in the lighting department. These places are a kind of home from home, where you can pretend to be someone else. I spent virtually every Saturday of my childhood off the leash in BHS.

So when Sir Philip Green sold this mumsy brand for a pound, shortly thereafter making 11,000 people redundant, and twice as many unsure of their pensions, it felt like sacrilege…like the natural habitat for matriarchs and Victoria Wood characters was being ransacked.

The subsequent features about how BHS stock was no longer “sexy” or “current” added to my sense of frustration. There was something kinda feminist about a brand that sold wide-foot shoes and elasticated waistbands, and generally acknowledged that women’s bodies change as they age and care for others. It was depressing, in this age of botox and fillers, to get the impression that this look was no longer allowed.

Hot Flushes Camo Net
American tourist Patsy teaches Sandra to shoot

So the idea for Hot Flushes began: a story about Sandra, a 60 year old BHS employee who is expecting her pension and is thwarted. She is a huge Country fan, and has always dreamed of travelling to the states in retirement. When Phil Green refuses to stump up her full pension, the frustrations of 45 years in retail bubble over. Devon’s Women Against State Pension Inequality kindly let me interview them about what it feels like to have your retirement postponed. The script was a selected play in Bristol Old Vic’s Open Session and got Peggy Ramsay funding to get re-drafted.

I started work on the score and lyrics with the quick-witted Charlie Coldfield, and director Anita Parry helped me hugely with the through-lines of the characters. The amazing new resource, Maketank, became our rehearsal room. What we ended up with is the theatrical equivalent of a Martin Parr seaside photo: a very British, blingy, full-on integrated musical comedy – albeit made on a very small budget – and a big departure from the dark, gritty studio theatre I’ve made before. This preview tour is just the first steps for this quirky show, but it’s packed with songs and live instrumentation and we hope you’ll come and take a look. As Exeunt put it, “Sandra gets to go wild. And there’s not an awful lot of places that a 60-year-old woman with caring duties can do that.”

Hot Flushes Gun Image
BHS Pensioner Sandra prepares to take her revenge on Sir Phillip Green