"why don't you go fuck a play" Boy George, by Twitter 18.7.2012

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Venus Rises in East 17

Ye Olde Rose and Crown, Walthamstow

* * * * *

‘Up a steep and very narrow stairway, to a voice like a metronome …’ – yes, I know that’s from A Chorus Line, but it crosses my mind every time I go to the Rose and Crown – although the dark at the top of the stairs has had a makeover with shiny new loos and there’s a fresh air of confidence alongside the Toilet Duck.

At last the R&C has come of age, and this production of One Touch of Venus ranks with the best the venue has housed.  A featherweight plot, in which an art gallery statue comes to life and falls in love with a geeky loser, but enlivened first by tintack-sharp lyrics by poet and humorist Ogden Nash and crisp one-liners by S. J. Perelman, then topped off with music by Kurt Weill.  But this is not Weill in his Weimar/Brechtian mode, as by 1943 he'd emigrated from Germany and studied jazz and musical theatre with Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein, so it’s tuneful, bright and massively enjoyable, designed to lift the spirits during wartime. 

It’s less a revival than a rediscovery, since Venus is rarely performed and the brilliance of this version is to play it crisp and straight, avoiding the camp which often undermines fringe productions by less intelligent directors, with impeccable diction and accents to capture those complex lines, and with some exceptionally strong and engaging voices.

In the leading role Marlene Dietrich once turned down because it was too risqué, Kendra McMillan’s Venus is perfect casting: tall and classically curvaceous she balances seductiveness with wit and her singing voice is warm and inviting, you can see why David Jay-Douglas as the gauche barber character falls instantly in love with her.  He too is nothing short of excellent, channelling Jerry Lewis as an endearingly hapless schmuck, with an elegant baritone.  Their duets are both beautifully realised, and beautifully realistic.

Standouts among a terrific ensemble include Danielle Morris enjoying the dialogue of hardboiled secretary Molly, and James Wolstenholme as the crafty art gallery director. Lauren Osborn as jilted girlfriend Gloria is a touch too cartoonish, but the rest of the cameos and characterisations are fine.

It’s good.  Very good.  Just well-sung, well-acted, well-dressed and well-lit.  If only all fringe shows could be this competent. 

Such an obscure musical, and one without any popular ‘standards’ among the songs, is hard to revive and the cast and production team have elevated this one brilliantly.  All credit to director and girl-to-watch Lydia Milman Schmidt.

originally written for www.remotegoat.co.uk

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