Pros: Some quite beautiful and unexpected moments.
Cons: Those not that familiar with Madonna may be lost in her back catalogue and back-story.
It’s unfair to judge a show on your experience before getting there – factors beyond the theatre’s control. But I help walking into St. James Theatre – sloshing in but might be more accurate given the weather – feeling just a bit grumpy. No, it’s not their fault that the bumper came off my car today, or that I had to fight Christmas shopping crowds, or that I was caught in a dramatic thunderstorm outside Buckingham Palace. But, against all logic, In Vogue was fighting an uphill battle with me, before I had even sat down.
It is thus even more impressive that I was completely won over by the show. I don’t know what I expected when I settled into my seat with my hot toddy and damp trousers (well, actually I do: wig, glitter and a funny accent). But I was totally surprised by Michael Griffiths’ understated performance. Although Griffiths spoke in the first-person as Madonna throughout the piece, the only thing he assumed from the Queen of Pop was her fierceness (yeah I said it). He spoke with his own Aussie accent, and although – thanks to the recent Ashes disaster – Australians aren’t my favourite people right now, I was entranced.
The songs themselves weren’t exactly the big-hits catalogue; it took me almost half an hour to recognise a song (excuse my ignorance). But this did not take away from my enjoyment of the experience. Griffiths’ voice, which recalls Elton John’s bluesy tones, was well capable of blasting out the tunes, but he chose instead to go for tender, vulnerable renditions of upbeat anthems like Papa Don’t Preach and Like A Virgin.
Mixed in with the songs were jokes, stories and the occasional C-bomb. Although there was some blue-humour, the tone was for the most part gentle, and the songs took centre stage. It was in the stories that I got slightly lost. Perhaps it is unfair to criticise a Madonna show for presupposing knowledge about the singer’s personal life; after all, expecting the audience to be fans isn’t the most dangerous assumption. But there were some jokes I didn’t get, a few times I got distracted about what exactly Griffiths was referring to. The feeling didn’t last long, however, and I was soon swept up in one of the many beautiful medleys. And even a Madonna ignoramus like me could enjoy all the jabs at Madonna-lite of the moment, Lady Gaga.
What was most rewarding about In Vogue was how it surprised me. Yes, I expected to be entertained, but for me, Griffiths provided more than that, I was truly wowed – the finale floored me.
If you want a raucous night out with wigs, lewd jokes at the audience’s expense and gimmicks, this is the wrong cabaret for you. However, if you are looking for something quieter but no less satisfying, I suggest you head to St. James Theatre and spend an hour with Griffiths. The Aussie is much more pleasant to hang out with than I suspect the “most famous b*tch on the planet” is, but he’s not interested in impersonating or caricaturing her and that’s what makes the show so special.
Writer & Performer: Michael Griffiths
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/in-vogue-songs-by-madonna/
Booking Until: 22nd December 2013