Waterloo East Theatre, London SE1
    Opened 8 September, 2010

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.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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