Review – Talent by Victoria Wood, Menier Chocolate Factory

Friday 18 September 2009

Talent at Menier Chocolate Factory

“Course you can, Malcolm”, Kiku, Mike & Bernie Winters, Norman Vaughan, Lena Zavaroni, Stars on Sunday, Hughie Green, Wagon Wheels. Goodness knows what anyone under a certain age or not of these isles will make of Victoria Wood’s Talent at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

The Whingers (who sadly are of a certain age, possibly a bit older) had popped along to last night’s first preview on the off-chance that they might receive another name check.

Instead, they found themselves thrown back in time to a backstage Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club drama.

Talent is a very strange concoction: a play with music. Well, it’s not much of a play really, more like a few vignettes strung together around a talent competition in Bunter’s Piccadilly nightclub in Manchester.

Phil found it rather dull. Andrew didn’t. Yes, strange indeed. One of the many things of which the Whingers are frequently accused is being in accord on practically everything they see so you would hardly expect Victoria Wood (whom both love and quote ad nauseam) to create a something resembling a critical fissure.

But it does feature what everyone was there for: Wood’s campy, droll, quotable, northern aphorisms: “She lives on Consulates and smoky bacon crisps” and (of a failed nun) “They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith”.

The strong cast includes Hi De Hi’s Jeffrey Holland (very good), Blue Peter‘s Mark Curry, the ever-dependable Mark Hadfield and a particularly charming turn from Suzie Toase (Little Red Riding Hood in the ROH’s Into The Woods).

Now Phil does agree that the cast were mainly very good; his problem was with the piece and the direction (Wood herself) which after a promisingly playful, kitsch start takes a huge dip when it reaches the club’s backstage area and we’re left mainly with talent contest hopeful Julie (Leanne Rowe) and Maureen (Toase) with other characters occasionally dropping in to liven things up. The lines are there but frequently fall flat in what is really a sluggishly extended sketch. It was no doubt hilarious when Wood and (Julie) Walters performed it and many of the audience (male couples of a certain age) were still guffawing. But not Phil.

It all seemed a bit dated with the songs adding very little apart from bringing the whole thing to a grinding halt, culminating in a anthemic finale which was such a strange sub Sondheim little number that Phil assumed it must be a parody.

Designer Roger Glossop has terrific fun with the 70’s costumes (especially the blue and yellow outfits for crooning trio Triple Velvet and Leanne Rowe’s wonderful psychedelic flared catsuit).

At 95 minutes with no interval it flies by (or forces you to make frequent glances at your wrist, depending on which Whinger you trust) and there’s plenty of time left to hang around the Menier bar (the Whingers are in agreement here) and marvel at how well Victoria Wood looks, how almost unrecognisable Frances Barber (or her lookalike) appears and how Bobby Crush has grown.

11 Responses to “Review – Talent by Victoria Wood, Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. Simone Says:

    Andrew, when you said as we were waiting to be ushered in that it was just 90 minutes and no interval, I thought we’re already off to a good start. But yeah, apart from a few catchy tunes that Suzie Toase performed and the jokes I hardly understood, it’s not something I would strongly endorse.

    Phil/Andrew, not sure if you’ve already done it on your blog, but it would be interesting to found out which productions you both enjoyed (and why), both hated (and why) and those that only one of you ever liked. Unless that’s another topic over bottles of red after a WEW outing rather than write a whole article about it, but I dont mind to wait till then. Great catching up with you both – as always.

  2. Jenko Says:

    As a long-time reader of this site who’s never risked a comment, I often go to the theatre and wonder if the Whingers will be in attendance – then check the next day to see if a review’s appeared. Up until now I’ve always been disappointed. But last night at the Menier I don’t know why but I did have a sort of sixth sense feeling that the WEW & friends could be in the building, and cast my eye around the bar trying to guess who they might be (if they did happen to be there). Therefore I was very pleased indeed to read the above and see that I was right, and it compelled me to post this reply. So while I’m here can I take this opportunity to thank you for regularly and unfailingly managing to cheer up my day – long may the whingeing continue!

  3. Clair Says:

    I was there too, and had the same sort of feeling as Jenko! You obviously exude a certain whingy sense…

    I enjoyed the play, but not as much as my (polder) partner, because a lot of the references went a bit over my head. I think you definitely benefit from being of a certain age for this play.

  4. Tim Says:

    As piles of doggy pooh go, this one certainly takes the doggy biscuit.
    I write these words with a very heavy heart, as I have always loved Victoria Wood’s stuff, be it live or on DVD, be it musical or plays for TV. I have even endorsed her music on the grounds that it is witty, lively and, in some respects, original, if never particularly memorable (but then you could say the same of many tunesmiths these days, incl. Lord Weber)
    However, this really was dire, chronic in fact. It may have been vaguely amusing with Wood & Walters camping it up, but last night’s performance had about as much verve and sparkle as a sun-soaked plastic bottle of Bulmers. If a piece is dated, that’s fine, but to imagine that anyone is going to laugh at lines likes “Of course there was no romance, he was a darkie”, is ridiculous – unless, of course, it is said in a suitably cheazy or self-ironic way. And simply throwing in a welter of references to sixties’ telly, which most of us would rather forget, is not a recipe for instant humour, sorry.
    At least Mozart was only 3 when he wrote down his first sketches, but what the hell is VW’s excuse for a load of crap like this?
    It wasn’t big, it wasn’t clever and it certainly wasn’t funny. The velvet suits and potty jokes may have brought a smirk to everyone’s lips, but that’s no more enough to carry us through the evening than a square of Cadbury’s chocolate would have been. Let’s face it, some things are just better off being burned or binned.

  5. David Toase Says:

    Suzie Toase is brilliant!

    David Toase (Suzie’s Dad)

  6. Chris Says:

    Well I always end up seeing things at the Menier near the end of their run and always book shows at the Menier before they open because they’re always brilliant.

    Alas……..

    To David, above, I entirely agree, indeed the whole cast is excellent. On all other matters, I’m with Tim above. The excellent cast is horribly, horribly wasted on this ghastly piece of tripe that should have been consigned to the history we all wanted to forget.

    Mrs Chris’ reaction was starker than mine. Within ten minutes she was asleep which was a shame as she missed the best bits. By the time the finale song was on she had to keep her head in her hands, lest (being in row A) she accidentally caught the eye of any of the actors performing that wholly embarrassing and irrelevant number.

    Actually, the whole show was irrelevant. The opening parts were irrelevant to the main parts and the main parts were irrelevant to life itself.

    I’m afraid we really, really, really hated it. We were wondering who thought it was a good idea to revive it and thought it would sustain a season at the Menier. I’ve never seen that theatre so empty, it’s nearly always packed.

    It’s charity time again, and at the end the actors were collecting for the cause that looks after theatre people in times of need. Mark Hadfield had his collecting box at the exit as we left. “You were brilliant in Rookery Nook” was my parting comment.

  7. Veronica Says:

    Think I must have been to a different show on Saturday. My daughter (aged 28) and I are big V Wood fans and we loved it, the references in the show did not go over her head. I think the Whingers went in the wrong frame of mind. Judging by the responses, the audience were enjoying it as much as we were. Hi Mr Toase, you are right, your daughter was brilliant and so was everyone else. Hope it goes on tour!!!


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