Victor/Victoria is the wonderful gender bending musical currently in production at London Bridge’s Southwark Playhouse.
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Victor/Victoria is the wonderful gender bending musical currently in production at London Bridge’s Southwark Playhouse. Set in Paris in 1934, it tells the story of Victoria Grant, an actress who feels, after the audition she goes for abruptly ends with yet another knockback, that her incredible voice will never be noticed. However, one of the casting agents in that audition, Toddy, recognises a hidden talent that Victoria had never even contemplated. An idea is born – Victoria should become Victor, Europe’s most popular and famous female impersonator.
After initial resistance from the feisty lady, she throws herself into the role, so much so that everyone around her is fooled and she becomes the toast of the town, winning praise every time she performs. However when she meets, and unexpectedly falls in love with, King Marchand, she must choose between her glittering career, or risk losing the man of her dreams.
This is a lovely production of a much-loved musical with breathtaking choreography from Lee Proud. The lively cast interact at appropriate times with the audience sitting either side of the action, and you are that close to the action you can see the beads of sweat rolling down the very attractive, buff dancers.
Anna Francolini is superbly cast in the lead and, although she looks quite dancers as they thrust and spin round to songs such as ‘Le Jazz Hot’ and ‘Chicago, Illinois’. And although she looks different on the stage as she does in the press pictures, she is excellently absorbing as the woman dressed as a man pretending to be a woman. By the end, you realise what a mighty role this is, and how subtly she portrays the character.
Richard Dempsey is Toddy, the debonair cad who brings his creation to life – a sort of camp Frankenstein who joyfully trounces on all those who dare stand in his way. A glorious performance from him.
The rest of the cast are just as strong, and while they may not have the lines or the stage time as the leads, there are some standouts who steal the limelight, those you can’t wait to see their next appearance. With this in mind, kudos must be given to Jean Perkins, whose comic timing and facial expressions stole each scene, without ever detracting from the heart of the show. Very clever.
The show is not without its faults. With sound issues throughout, it was at times difficult to hear the incredibly genius lines from writer Blake Edwards, which is a shame as there are such unashamedly riotous lines machine gunning the whole production. Plus, the traverse set doesn’t work occasionally, certainly when the cabaret separates from the drama. It feels as if the two worlds are too entwined – one moment you’re listening to Victoria’s woes and then suddenly the stage is full of dancers.
However, it would be fair to say that if you do go, you must get there early and grab the seats towards the back of the theatre as I’m sure the issues mentioned above would all be solved if you get better seats. It is a very popular show so arrive in plenty of time.
All in all, a great show with strong assured performances not just from the actors, but also from those involved in scene changes, which were so smooth and so quick, it would be a shame for them to go unnoticed. And although it’s very difficult to not make comparisons with Julie Andrews in the film of the same name, this is a great show, especially from Anna Francolini, who deserves a stunning career indeed.
Victor/Victoria is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 15th December.
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