All I knew of this show was “Tell me on a Sunday”, “Take that look off your face” and the fact that it was the first part of a two-part show “Song and Dance” where the second half was Wayne Sleep dancing to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations.
So I wasn’t surprised when the bar wasn’t accepting interval orders, and indeed we were back home and tucked up with a cuppa tea 90 minutes after the show started. It is a bit odd to have something so short as your evening’s entertainment (although we’ve seen shorter – some dance stuff, and Arturo Brachetti did a show at the Oxford Playhouse that started at 8pm and we were all going home at 8.40pm).
So to sustain the night the show really has to pack a punch. And I reckon that in about 2 weeks it will be fully packing. I was very impressed with its wit – it’s cleverly put together, with intelligent lyrics, nice funny bits, and seriously emotional moments too. It all makes for a very intense evening. It’s a show that demands a lot of concentration, which is possibly why we slept like babies afterwards. Nevertheless one does feel just a bit under-served when the show finishes so early. Like theatrical nouvelle cuisine.
It’s a “big ask” for Claire Sweeney to carry off this show. She has a charming stage presence, and got all the humour out of her Scouse emails to her Mum back home; she also has a terrific voice and sings extremely well (a couple of exceptions, see below). I did feel though that on its second night it was still a little under-rehearsed. There is an awful lot of prop handling and costume changes whilst “the girl” is singing. There was a frightening moment when she wrestled with her suitcase and the damn thing just wasn’t going to open – and it did JUST in time; she also walked into the kitchen stool, clothes dropped off the screen, and so on. There are a lot of props on this rather small stage. This kind of made me nervous.
And another thing – there were a few times when I couldn’t actually work out the words, mainly when she was singing in the lower register, from my vantage point of Row C of the Stalls. This was particularly a problem for me in the song “Take that look off your face”, where I thought she rather overacted the emotion and meaning, to the detriment of the singing. However, immediately afterwards she sang “Tell me on a Sunday” and it was absolutely magnificent. Sometimes we felt (Mrs Chrisparkle and I were in agreement here) that the band were a bit too loud for the singing – almost as though they knew they had a few good tunes coming up, and were going to give it everything they had. Oh and one more thing – there is a new song at the end, which I think is totally redundant – a musical “underlining” of what went before. I feel the reprise of “Take that look” is the right place for the show to end though, the new song “Dreams Never Run on Time” is a bit of an anti-climax.
So all in all a slightly mixed reception on my part – however, the audience loved it and gave Claire Sweeney a very warm reaction. It’s on for a week here and is more or less completely sold out, so they must be doing something right. I’d definitely recommend it though. It’s got a 12 week tour coming up, and going to lots of venues, sometimes for just one or two nights. It’s going to be gruelling. I hope Claire Sweeney’s fitness levels are high.