Posts Tagged ‘Jean Perkins’

This show started life as a film, made by Blake (Pink Panther) Edwards as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews some 30 years ago. It got to Broadway 13 years later but took another 9 years to get to London; a fringe production by Phil Wilmott at the then home of fringe musicals, The Bridewell Theatre. It’s only taken 8 more years for its second London outing (I think), this time at one of our now multiple fringe musical homes, Southwark Playhouse, in a production by the talented and prolific Thom Sutherland.

It owes a lot to Cabaret. English girl abroad. Decadent nightclubs. Cross-dressing. It’s the story of Victoria Grant who after a failed audition as a club singer is persuaded by new friend Toddy to pose as Polish Victor playing a woman – a woman playing a man playing a woman; very Shakespearian.

She falls for visiting American nightclub owner King Marchand (and he for him/her in a nice touch of confused sexuality) but is rumbled by competing club owner Henri Labisse for whom she originally auditioned.  All is revealed so that she can get her man (and his sidekick can get his man i.e Toddy!). It’s a bit of a slight story and the score isn’t much more than OK, but it scrubs up well in this excellent production.

It’s a traverse staging with a (rather too noisy) entrance and stairway at one end and an (underused) staircase and eight club tables with table-top lights (occupied by audience members) at the other end. A few tables and chairs constitute the minimal props but its an effective design by Martin Thomas, well lit by Howard Hudson.

The key to its success is a star turn from the wonderful Anna Francolini who is perfectly cast and believable as both Victor and Victoria. Richard Demsey is good as Toddy, as is Matthew Cutts as King. Mark Curry had real presence as the club owner / manager and Kate Nelson did a lovely job as King’s dumb blonde Norma. In the supporting cast, Jean Perkins gave a fine set of cameos, including a warm-up magic act!

The show was still in preview and it didn’t seem quite ready; in particular there was some ragged playing from the eight piece band under Joseph Atkins. I suspect it will settle and improve as the run continues, but in any event it’s well worth a visit.

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This is a very welcome and very rare revival of a J B Priestly play much along the line of An Inspector Calls. Goodness knows what they thought of it in 1943 – despite the wartime setting and a somewhat dated preachiness, it’s still challenging 68 years on.

Nine characters emerge from different places outside the walls of a city. Priestly’s concern with class means there are three from the upper class – a knight, a lady and her daughter,  three from the middle class – a man from The City, a bank manager and his wife and three from the working class – a seaman, a waitress and a char lady. We don’t know how they got there or why,  but we eventually discover – when the gates open – the city is some sort of egalitarian utopia which attracts some and repels others. Five return from whence they came (one reluctantly), two stay on and two miss the deadline whilst their love for one another is played out.

I’m not entirely clear what point he’s making – maybe prophesying a post war ‘third way’? – but in any event, it’s an intriguing and interesting ride. The Southwark Playhouse’s Vaults (under London Bridge station) is a perfect space in which to create the mysterious atmosphere. There’s no set as such – just a couple of walls and a doorway – but the costumes are enough to place the play in its period. The production does misfire occasionally, notably with music that often jars – particularly the faux fanfares that accompany each character’s first entrance with a follow spot, but it allows you to evaluate the play unhindered by any directorial concept.

The characterisations from all nine actors are excellent. James Robinson conveyed the idealism and passion of Joe very well and Thomas Shirley brought the money obsessed Cudworth to life. You empathise easily with the frustrated and unfulfilled bank manager as portrayed by Daniel Souter and Jean Perkins’ char lady is an absolutely delicious cameo.

Great to catch a rare Priestly and a gold star to Southwark Playhouse for providing the opportunity.

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