East Theatre, London SE1
The railway arches of London SE1 are
becoming an alternative, troglodyte theatreland. Shunt may have vacated
their berth beneath London Bridge station, but the nearby Union Theatre
has recently been joined by the Old Vic Tunnels and now by Waterloo
East Theatre, beneath the eponymous commuter station. The 100-seat
venue’s first season concentrates on chamber musicals and solo shows:
this may be an astute move, since such offerings are likely to be less
physically active. For the deep, narrow auditorium has the kind of
shallow rake which is in some ways worse than no rake at all, in that
it holds out the hope of increased visibility only to dash it cruelly.
From my seat barely halfway back, pretty much everything below sternum
level onstage was hors de combat.
With musicals there is also the chance that a vigorous number will
drown out the rumble of the frequent trains overhead: this is the
noisiest such venue I have encountered.
Its first full-length run is given to Jessica Martin’s solo portrayal
of fictional, ageing Hollywood diva Veronique Raymond, who regales us
with her account of a life lived always just out of shot as regards
success and a clutch of musical numbers which allow Martin to show her
musical, comedy and impersonation chops, all of which are considerable.
It is agreeable enough, though more than a little contrived in places,
such as a gratuitous impression of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe
playing Uncle Vanya and a
sequence of vocal legends (Minnelli, Streisand, Merman) singing songs
from Willy Russell’s musical Blood
Brothers. It is also a naturally one-act show; cleaving it in
twain with an interval seems a decision taken with an eye more on bar
revenue than performance fluidity. One never regrets, or even pays much
heed to the passage of, time spent in Martin’s company, but the
combination of show and venue leaves an impression of resources
stretched some way beyond their formal breaking strain.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights
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