Pros: Very funny with memorable characterisation. The theatre bar also has a lovely new water urn – good riddance to manky jugs!
Cons: Full concentration is required to avoid missing any comic gems.
Last year St James Studio brought us Miss Dietrich Regrets, the portrait of a needy diva and her put-upon helpmeet. This year they bring us La Poule Plombée, a cabaret featuring a tragic and possibly psychotic chanteuse who makes adoration a contractual obligation for her audience and her timid accompanist.
Sarah-Louise Young’s comic creation is a monster whose fabulous voice conceals a thin skin. With her willowy figure, thick accent, crashing condescension and inability to pronounce ‘Hugh’, she is also fantastically French. In this neatly packaged one hour show La Poule Plombée tells her story through songs, direct address, conversation with ‘Momo’ at the piano and audience participation.
The songs are very funny, often absurd and usually quite dark. She starts off with a song about the awesome power of her voice, later on she sings to her little black dress and then, by way of explanation for the knife that she carries with her, delivers a rather graphic song about butchery (the otherwise lively audience was noticeably quieter during the latter!). All of the songs rely heavily on rhyme for humour, so there is anticipation as you wait to hear the ludicrous second half of a couplet. In some cases it is obvious what’s coming but Young’s manner of delivery still makes it delightful, whilst in other cases it is totally, unpredictably loopy. At a point towards the end of the show where there is a danger of things becoming formulaic, La Poule Plombée ramps up the unsung gags with, amongst others, a particularly amusing namecheck of all her former band members and a daft comment about encores.
It’s fair to say that the St James Studio team know their audience well and the venue has rapidly become a mainstay of London’s cabaret scene. La Poule Plombée performed to a house full of 50-something date-nighters and while her alter-ego Sarah-Louise Young could no doubt have satisfied that audience with a superb evening of straight musical entertainment, La Poule Plombée provides so much more. The show features a perfectly formed narrative, the backstory of La Poule’s childhood and pet sow, Pierre, relationship counselling for one lucky couple and a character that is grotesque yet finely drawn and recognisable – a little bit of Marlene Dietrich, some JLo, a touch of Steve Brookstein and yes, even a hint of Édith Piaf.
La Poule Plombée is as dark as her name suggests but is also very funny. The show is a little subversive but always just on the ‘right’ side of tasteful. As it moves on to Brighton Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe and London Wonderground, I wonder if it will venture further to the other side of tasteful than it did in SW1. It will be a great night out, either way.
Authors: Sarah-Louise Young, Michael Roulston
Booking until: This show has now ended its run at St James Theatre.