Directed by Hope Murphy-Nanton
Pros: If you like jazz standards played live, you’ll like this show.
Cons: Some practical matters, such as sightlines, don’t seem to have been thought out completely.
Our Verdict: An interesting, if uneven, love letter to ‘Lady Ella’.
|Courtesy of The Space|
Anyone who’s been to Edinburgh will recognise the one man/woman show where the actor addresses the audience. This show’s unique selling point is that the lead character relates how she met and was changed for the better by one of music’s all-time greats.
The Memoirs of Lucy Bell revolves around an established singer who looks back at her teenage years and traces her personal journey to stardom. Murphy-Nanton – the director and writer of the show – does a good job of weaving Lucy’s history with that of Ella Fitzgerald’s, and showing the parallels in her life with the jazz and blues legends, who almost uniformly experienced the dark side of life.
Jade Nanton gives a committed performance in the lead role, jumping back and forth with ease between acting and singing. The musicians who accompanied her on piano and guitar were very accomplished and confident. Although they looked relatively young, they played with skill and assurance of seasoned performers.
The set design, of a bedroom in New York, was well-realised – certainly better than some plays I’ve seen recently. It consisted of a large bed with luxury linen, a chair, a window showing the New York skyline and a screen which could have been from the Art Deco era.
When Nanton sings in close proximity to the musicians – which happens most of the evening – it is (or was) hard to register her voice. Later in the show when Nanton sang upstage, her voice was perfectly audible. Perhaps, having Nanton’s microphone further away from the musicians may help when she’s required to be downstage.
Secondly, if an audience member is sitting by the piano (quite a nice place you might think – somewhere I was on the first half of the evening) they’ll realise that it is a blind spot. Nanton isn’t required to move around a lot in the show, so when she sits on her chair upstage, the screen that’s also there blocks her from view. Those sitting by the piano only get to hear her and not see her at all for a big chunk of the evening. The way around this would be to move the chair further downstage. Alternatively, seeing as the bed isn’t utilised at all and takes up a lot of the stage space, using it in some capacity would be the logical choice as it is visible from every direction.
Although The Space isn’t prohibitively large by any stretch of the imagination, I can certainly see this production doing well in a smaller, darker venue. Then, sightlines wouldn’t so much of an issue, the singing would be universally heard and the intimate ambience would make you feel you’re transported to a jazz club of a bygone age.
It’s evident that this production is a labour of love for all concerned, involving many talented people. Here’s hoping that the kinks are ironed out, so this production can be the best it can be and achieve its maximum impact.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Memoirs of Lucy Bell runs at The Space Theatre until 28th September 2013
Box Office: 020 7515 7799 or book online at www.space.org.uk