Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Girls! Girls! Girls! - review

Written by: Jess Nesling (@JessNes1)

The Pheasantry, London

Babette’s Feast, the quartet composed of vocalists Emma Ruth, Verona Chard, Tamsyn Salter and Sophie Burnham, took to the small stage of The Pheasantry for a performance advertised as a “delicious musical double bill”. The repertoire took the audience on a tour through the ages, from Glenn Miller to Paloma Faith; but something was lacking.

Opening the show in a glittery blue and silver outfit, Emma ‘Divine Miss Em’ Ruth gave a powerful rendition of Upside Down. A microphone malfunction came to tarnish her opening, but, as an experienced entertainer, she handled it well. She certainly knows how to use every inch of a performance space, but it remains that when she climbed up the stairs to sing from the balcony, most of the audience could only see her sky-blue, skyscraper heels.

As Miss Em began to interact with the audience, it became clear that this was not her usual crowd. Her risqué jokes and banter were met with embarrassed gasps. She tried again later, asking for everyone’s favourite word for “knockers”. There was a sense of reluctance, but after some coaxing, the most brazen spectators offered up their preferred words – some, such as “fun bags”, causing a stir among the audience. Pianist Chris Neill joined Em on stage for her second number. He crept shyly to the piano, hiding under a mop of curly hair, but when he started playing, however, his Midas touch brought the piano to life.

After a few more songs, the remaining Babettes made their entrance to perform Something’s Gotta Hold of Me as a taster of the second act. The performance’s weak singing and harmonies did not give high hopes for what was to come, but the audience did seem slightly more relaxed. Genuine laughter broke out for the first time all evening when Em sang Women Be Wise with a man plucked from the audience kneeling down to act as her microphone stand. By the closing performance of the first act, In These Shoes?, Miss Em had fully settled into her new environment, and left the stage to applause.

The second act began with a jazzed up version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Unfortunately, the tables being crammed together, the girls missed their cue finding a way to the stage. Luckily the performers only had to deal with this once, but it was very difficult for the catering staff. Chris then returned to the stage, bringing along talented drummer Dominic – who, oddly, does not feature in the show’s programme.

The Babette’s Feast girls share a lovely rapport, but differing levels of talent and showmanship set them apart. Their songs felt under-rehearsed and the simplistic accompanying choreography was rarely performed with united energy. Nevertheless, these are clearly four very talented singers. Tamsyn was wonderfully expressive and note-perfect during her rendition of The Snake and Sophie’s sexy, deep voice stood out during her performance of Keep Young and BeautifulVerona’s soft, husky voice suited her solo, Fever, but overall she was too weak and Em overpowered across the board.

In their penultimate song, I Kissed a Girl, the quartet was not raunchy enough to achieve the sultry and flirtatious stage presence required by the cabaret genre, but, thankfully, their encore of Lady is a Tramp was a huge improvement, united and confident.

Cabaret is often deemed the Marmite of the theatrical world: it is a specific type of entertainment requiring a specific type of audience. It appears that that audience was not present at The Pheasantry, Chelsea on Sunday night.

This production is now closed.
@cabaretexcess @pizzapheasantry @TheDivineMissEm

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