Saturday, 14 November 2009

"They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith"

We trolled off en masse to windy Southwark last night to see Victoria Wood's Talent at the Menier Chocolate Factory. A very entertaining evening indeed!

Although a bit dated in places (the original "play with music" was written in 1978 and many of the contemporary references in the script remain intact - would many people these days remember Mike and Bernie Winters or the "Oh, Malcolm" Vicks commercial, for instance?), Victoria Wood's wit and penchant for the sardonic quip shine through.

Set in the sleazy world of the Northern night-club scene (so brilliantly captured by the likes of Phoenix Nights), the dreadful stereotypes are all in place: the secretary with ambition but no discernible talent, her fat best friend, the sleazy groping club host, the long-lost rat of an ex-boyfriend, and the dreadful old-school variety acts. From the opening number with the cheesiest "vocal trio" in the world, we retreat to the grotty dressing room for the rest of the drama, as the relationships between the characters unfold.

The players are excellent - Suzie Toase is particularly good as the "fat friend" Maureen, as is Hi De Hi’s Jeffrey Holland as the crappy all-round entertainer, and, surprisingly, ex-Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry as the pervy MC. Shakespearean actor Mark Hadfield is great in the dual role of the (female) bookings organiser and the twitchy side-kick in the dire variety act. The weakest link was surprisingly the lead character Julie, played by Leanne Rowe, who really doesn't quite fit the part that was obviously created for Julie Walters - but fair play, who could?

But is of course for the dialogue that we love Victoria Wood's work. You cannot fault a play that throws out lines like "I thought coq au vin was a fuck in a lorry", "She used to be a nun. They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith" and "Mine's the white Cortina up against the back wall in the VIP car park. Take your girdle off and bring a tissue." And of course, the songs are brilliant and sometimes poignant as you might expect...

Apparently one song from the show, Fourteen Again, had its lyrics adapted for another tune, Rusholme Ruffians by none other than The Smiths. Morrissey was a great fan of Wood's, and had even proposed marriage to her via the music press (to which she responded "Morrissey and I have been married for 11 months, though due to touring commitments, we have yet to meet.")

Of our evening, one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments was when Sally and Maria popped off for a pee (the show has no interval), but Maria took a wrong turn and ended up trying to get out through the curtains at the side of the seats. Their subsequent enjoyment of the play was rather spoiled after that as they were made to take seats near the (real) exit, and couldn't see the rest of the show properly. Hey ho. All in all, a very enjoyable evening - highly recommended for Victoria Wood fans in particular!

About Talent

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