Pros: A nostalgic night of old show tunes and jazz in a lovely venue.
Cons: Not a comfortable watch for the uninitiated.
When I arrived at Sloane Square tube station, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should have dressed up. I was, after all, going to a jazz club. And there’s nothing like walking down King’s Road, past its shiny designer shops, to make you feel under-dressed. But I needn’t have worried; while some of the patrons of PizzaExpress’ The Pheasantry were dressed to impress, the atmosphere was relaxed and laid back. This is PizzaExpress at its most sophisticated and interesting – but ultimately it is still comfortable, familiar PizzaExpress.
The Pheasantry is a mixture of a restaurant and performance space, letting you enjoy a nice, relaxed meal before the music begins. It’s a lovely concept, and PizzaExpress have pulled it off well. With small tables clustered around a tiny stage, the space is intimate, bordering on cramped. But the staff were attentive and friendly and were particularly impressive when faced with more than twenty tables all wanting to pay their bills at the same time at the end of the night. It made a nice change to be able to combine a show with food. Rather than rushing through a pre-theatre menu before hurrying to the performance, we could enjoy a meal at our leisure. Our desserts and coffees arrived just as the music started, and we could sit back and sip our drinks as the show began, a very sophisticated way of doing things!
The show itself is a nostalgic showcase performed by Anita Harris, veteran of everything show business. It is a celebration of a lifetime on stage; a collection of music hall, cabaret and jazz songs accompanied by stories, anecdotes and asides about her time in show business. Harris begins at her birth and mixes in stories from her past in film, stage and music, dropping famous names every other sentence. She is comfortable and happy on stage, a gracious, charming hostess. She is accompanied by the Peter Gill Trio, a fantastically energetic band. The trio overflow with enthusiasm and energy; they can hardly sit still while playing and their affectionate chemistry with Harris is particularly engaging.
For a one-woman show, the performance was packed with variety; Harris’ stories cover great sweeps of time and the music jumps between styles and eras, not to mention three different costumes in one night! Harris herself effortlessly switches from dramatic diva to intimate, friendly storyteller and back at the drop of a hat. Fans of Harris will enjoy the contrast of her theatrical singing, strutting, and dancing with the nostalgic familiarity of her storytelling, which is emphasised by the intimate closeness of the venue.
On the other hand, if you’re like me – a relative newbie to jazz – you may find the small venue and intimate style a little overwhelming. While Harris was charming and engaging, I felt that I missed out on some references and lacked the familiarity to really enjoy the show. The evening was all about people I hadn’t heard of, times I don’t remember, and songs I didn’t know. It turns out that while I wasn’t underdressed, I was still out of place! While most of the small audience sang along and exclaimed at the big names dropped by Harris, I was mostly in the dark. After a while, I realised that the way Harris familiarly addressed her audience as ‘darlings’ was not simply an affectation, she did actually know half the people in the room. By the end I felt a bit like I’d accidentally invited myself along to an intimate family gathering.
Nevertheless, while the show wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I can appreciate that many people would love it. Harris is charismatic, the songs are energetic and the whole performance feels like something special, unusual and unique, if not suited to every taste.
Performers: Anita Harris, The Peter Gill Trio
Producer: Richard and Douglas Productions
Booking Information: This production has now finished its run.