Come for the menopause, stay for the druids… - ★★★★
This joyful show celebrates womanhood, the Forest of Dean and village eccentrics
Written by Emma Loffhagen in Evening Standard on June 21st, 2023
Linda is a working-class mum and wife. She’s also just turned 50.
Is there a birthday party? Naturally: one she organises, invites guests to, bakes the cake for and cleans up after. A thankless job – and it’s not even the birthday girl, but her loudmouth class clown husband Steve (Omid Djalili) who is the centre of attention, and whose heartfelt toast to his life partner comprises solely of her being “fit for your age” and “a great mum”.
This is the opening of Channel 4’s new six-part miniseries The Change, which takes that rather horrifying scenario and sets out to reclaim it.
Prompted by a combination of her disastrous party and realising that she is going through the menopause (what she previously thought was early onset dementia after forgetting the word for shoe), Linda (Bridget Christie, also the series’ writer) makes the decision to indefinitely ditch her life of suburban drudgery.
Dusting off her old Triumph motorbike, left untouched for 30 years, she sets off alone to the enchanting wilderness of the Forest of Dean, leaving behind 25 years worth of notebooks detailing every minute of unappreciated housework she has totted up (including a rather cutting entry reading: “Sex with Steve: 1 minute 20 seconds”), much to the bewilderment of her husband.
Reclaiming some of those minutes of tedium and on a quest for self-discovery, identity and purpose (which involves, rather bizarrely, finding a tree she climbed as child), Linda becomes part of a wacky, Jerusalem-esque village community of locals with names such as Pig Man (Jerome Flynn) and where activities like “cat speed dating” and the annual eel festival take place without the bat of an eyelid.
The show has the acclaimed stand-up Christie’s stamp all over it, most obviously in that it is full of genuinely laugh-out-loud one-liners. It’s also an affectionate caricature of her native Gloucestershire, and a love letter to the eccentric characters who make up village life, as well as the ethereally beautiful pines and Redwoods of the Forest of Dean.
While at first glance The Change is a feminist take on the menopause, it quickly snowballs into a collection of tongue-in-cheek but outspoken ruminations on everything from climate change, race and Paganism to the culture wars and gender identity, and probably sets the TV world record for number of mentions of eels per second.
However, while the six episodes are propelled by humour and Linda’s immense likeability, this (at first quirky) unpredictability can render the show a bit shapeless towards the halfway point. Apart from a few randomly-placed excerpts from Simone de Beauvoir and a book titled Everything You Need To Know About The Menopause, and some mini-feminist soliloquies from Linda, her journey seems to fall a bit by the wayside, while the ins and outs of the village Druid festival take centre stage. Is Linda’s exclamation in the penultimate episode that “it’s all getting a bit too Wickerman for me” a nod and a wink from Christie in acknowledgement of this slightly jarring pivot? Perhaps, but down the Wickerman path the action persists.
Still, there is no denying that Christie is both a phenomenal writer and actress (it’s hard to believe this is her first television commission or acting role), and her comedic genius oozes from all her characters. Linda’s relationship with her disapproving sister Siobhan (Liza Tarbuck) is hilarious in an eye-rolling way, as are the frequent flashes to Steve struggling at home alone, being slowly defeated by avalanches of tupperware and mounting empty loo rolls. Djalili too must take some credit – despite Steve himself being an intensely frustrating embodiment of weaponised incompetence, the comedian’s impeccable timing means you can’t help but forgive at least some of his sins.
In less than three hours of running time, the sheer breadth of The Change is hugely ambitious, and for the most part, Christie pulls it off. While it is cutting both in its humour and its astute social commentary, it is also immensely warm, grounded in familial community and nostalgic in a way that is hard to define. So – come for the menopause, stay for the Druids.
Written by Emma Loffhagen in Evening Standard on 21st June 2023.
Filed Under: The Change