Pros: Two plays in one! Excellent performances from both main protagonists.
Cons: Uneven tone in the second play, small theatre space meant the music on occasion eclipsed the vocals.
Kathy Kirby, the Golden Girl of Pop, is a name this generation is perhaps not overly familiar with. The blonde bombshell Monroe-esque coiffure, lip gloss and soprano voice which gained her fame and fortune in the 1960s fizzled to an unremarkable close in 2011, with Kirby having been a recluse for many years. Kathy Kirby: Icon serves to resurrect the memory of the woman behind the music in an attempt to provide clarity for her eventual downfall, both economical and emotional.
The first of the double bill, I Play For Me, recounts the fictitious story of Eddie Figueroa (Eddie Mann) as he rises from pub singer to the supporting act for Kathy’s shows, having been head-hunted by her manager Bert Ambrose (Jeremy Gagan). The action flits between Eddie’s on stage performances and his gradual downwards spiral through use of narcotics, and a future journey on a ferry to France. Here, he encounters Billy-Boy (Harry McLeod), a young man travelling alone who clearly needs to be taken care of even more than Eddie does. Fragility is an underlying theme for both plays, and as is the internal conflict between following your heart or your head.
The second play Kathy Kirby: Icon combines the past and present as one. The 1960s Kathy (Maggie Lynne) belts out hits from her Golden years, while a much older Kathy (Tina Jones) sits next to her. The older Kathy is destitute and pill-popping, pining for lost love and lost opportunity, plagued by her own demons and regretting her decision to accept a series of spots at a local bingo hall. I particularly enjoyed watching older Kathy reminisce with a smile of pure nostalgia, while the younger Kathy next to her danced with Bruce Forsyth and sang her heart out. However, Icon concentrates on her relationship with Ambrose, both as manager and lover, and I felt this somewhat constricted the viewpoint. More than one dance number featured a coffin with Ambrose inside, a rather bizarre choice of prop which counteracted the emotive substance, but on balance I can see how it could represent the destructive energy of Kathy’s mind.
The White Bear is a small theatre space, and both plays with almost no props (bar aforementioned coffin!) seamlessly changed scene and time, with overhead sound altering from the blast of a ferry horn to the eruption of applause in a music hall. I was impressed by the temporary breaking of the fourth wall during I Play For Me, where Eddie declares he is playing at the White Bear and addresses we the audience directly. As I applauded after his final song, I felt not just part of the theatre audience, but part of HIS musical audience within the play itself.
Overall I found both plays an enjoyable experience, and appreciate the innovation of two connected yet wholly individual productions. While it did not leave me desperate to find out more about the Golden Girl herself, it provided pause for thought on the manipulations and emotional stress that fame can bring.
Authors: David Cantor (I Play For Me), Tim O’Brien (Kathy Kirby: Icon)
Director: Tim Heath
Producers: Eiji Mihara, David Donegan
Booking Until: 08 November 2015
Box Office: 0333 666333
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whitebear