A new stage production of a camp classic...
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‘A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman’, that’s the standard summary of Blake Edward’s story about a destitute soprano whose luck changes after hatching a plan with a jobless impresario to pose as a female impersonator. Victoria becomes Victor, and in doing so not only becomes the toast of Paris but the love interest of a rather confused American mobster. Think Virgina Woolf’s Orlando but with shorter skirts and a 100% increase in jazz hands.
I think it is fair to say that a giant ‘Z’ overshadows any actress who attempts Sally Bowles. Luckily for the protagonist of Victor/Victoria, the cinematic interpretation remains a lesser-known feature in the canon of its star Julie Andrews, so the role escapes such a curse. To my pleasant surprise, such was the topic of conversation underway in the men’s toilet at the interval (and I repeat now what I preached whilst pissing then); Anna Francolini excels in the title role. She delivers unabashed camp, harmoniously balanced with moments of introspective poignancy, and although Andrews may be recalled at times, I sense no attempt at cheap mimicry. With strong vocals and sharp comic timing, Francolini upholds engagement and, in light of some alternative performers failing to match in appeal, half of me believes she could be holding the production together. The other half of me supposes that’ll be the last time that my urinating will be accompanied by a debate regarding the nuances of Mary Poppins.
The choreography is notable; it’s just a shame it's been cramped within the limiting space of the venue’s vault. This restriction had its upside however; further evoking the intimate atmosphere of the underground clubs of Paris as conjured by Martin Thomas’ commendable set design. Certain musical scenes cause a slight lull in the first half, although this is made up for by the praiseworthy execution of the show’s celebrated numbers Le Jazz Hot and Crazy World.
Southwark Playhouse’s production is a confident interpretation of a cult favourite, coming strongly recommended not only as an antidote to the banality of the jukebox musical trend, but also because I fear it’ll be a long time before Victor/Victoria is given such a confident revival.
Words: Henry Petrides
25th October - 15th December
@ Southwark Playhouse