“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.