Arts Theatre, London WC2
Opened 8 January, 2002

It's astounding (in a small way) that I had managed to reach such an age, and be in this line of work so long, without ever having seen Dillie Keane in a full-length music show, whether solo or with Fascinating Aida. This situation has been rectified with Keane's current show Back With You, fetching up for three weeks at the Arts Theatre in a 9.15pm slot following The Vagina Monologues and staged on the set she describes as "the Vulva estate". Like their male counterparts Kit and the Widow (whom I have also yet to see in full), Keane and her comrades occupy a particular niche in the affections of both the critical community and the theatregoing public in general. But where others tend to stick fairly faithfully within the tradition of sharp, satirical songs (in an English line descending, I suppose, from Flanders & Swann and the like), Keane and her frequent co-writer Adele Anderson are unashamed to trade also in the more poignant side of being a woman d'un certain âge and still, as it were, in (note: "in"!) the game.

Thus, the bitchy, spikily rhymed paean to insincerity "Let's Hear It For Fake" is followed by  a regretful room-by-room catalogue of the romantic misfortunes experienced in "My Flat", and "Out Of Practice" blends the moods in an account of dating in an age group which Keane disguises with a cough as one's "[ahem]ties". The batch of songs at the centre of the show, for which Keane accompanies herself at the piano, move from tentatively wry in "Single Again" to comically furious in "Back With You" before settling into a kind of defiant wistfulness in "Love Late", with its shades of "September Song".

For most of the show, Keane is accompanied by Russell Churney, who over the last several years has burgeoned, almost unnoticed, from Julian Clary's long-suffering musical sidekick into an impressive musical director (most recently for chansonnière Barb Jungr) and, when appropriate, a comic presence in his own right; he strikes just the right note of impish bemusement when called on by Keane to take a verse of "Song Of Sexual Re-Orientation", with its hookline "Wouldn't it be nice to be a lesbian!"

After twenty years plying her trade either solo or as a threesome (and she would relish the connotations of such phrasing), Keane knows exactly how to pitch herself to an audience, and they respond warmly despite being predominantly a little younger than... it would be ungallant to say "than her", so let's say "than that described in her songs"; her observations draw affectionate laughs of familiarity, though not necessarily familiarity yet born of experience. She does, however, commit one error: she repeats to us the fallacy that there is no rhyme in the English language for "orange". There is: "sporange", a spore-case. It's in the OED. It's a challenge... Get writing, girl.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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