Pros: A well-put-together show with strong performances means you can relax and enjoy escaping to 1930s Paris.
Cons: The story’s a little thin in places.
I have to confess that when I glanced at the blurb for this show, I thought it was probably going to be another unremarkable cabaret show – a few songs from the 1930s patched together with not much story. I was completely wrong, and I’m so glad I jumped in at the last minute to review this piece.
Jessica Walker has written and stars in a play with songs based on the life and career of Suzy Solidor. Now that Piaf and Dietrich are done to death, Solidor is a great find; a French bisexual singer and actress who ran a nightclub in 1930s Paris and entertained revellers with raunchy lesbian love songs. Intriguingly, she was known as ‘the most painted woman in the world’ and she was indeed captured by some of the greats including Picasso, Bacon, and Tamara de Lempicka – herself a glamorous bisexual painter with whom Solidor had an affair.
The glorious setting of Wilton’s Music Hall is absolutely perfect for this show. Cabaret-style tables and chairs are arranged at the front (I’m not sure what you have to do to get seated here; my friend and I were a little further back, in the first row of normal seating). At the beginning of the play we meet Solidor post-career – she’s snoozing in a chair in her antiques shop as the audience enter. The bric-a-brac set is beautifully lit and looks as if it has always been there. Accurate reproductions of Solidor’s famous portraits hang above. The first shift back in time to her ‘30s heyday is done gorgeously – an accordion player (the faultless Joseph Atkins, also on piano) enters from the side and meanders through the audience, playing softly. Alexandra Mathie (an accomplished actor who plays several parts) also circulates, lighting candles on the tables and warmly welcoming the audience to what is now Suzy’s Paris nightclub.
Jessica Walker is one to watch, in my opinion. A technically-accomplished and intelligent performer, she has written a play with snappy dialogue and good jokes, and has translated Solidor’s songs from French to English herself. The songs are pretty filthy, very funny, and at times very moving – mezzo-soprano Walker succeeds in pulling the heart and tenderness out when needed in order to tell the story. Perhaps my only criticism is that the story itself is a little flimsy. The historical context of Nazi-occupied France and Solidor’s later conviction as a collaborator is rather brushed over – although, to be fair, that would have made for quite a different play. What Walker chose to emphasise, I think, was how subversive Solidor was, and how a woman (butch, femme, or anything in between) singing erotic songs to another woman is still something transgressive and electrifying to watch when done as well as it is here. Solidor’s relationships with young lovers and with her estranged father are brought to life through engaging and believable performances from Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie.
Director Sarah Frankcom makes full use of the space, and the shifts in time are done with simple theatricality, never patronising the audience. I was never lost – in fact, I was completely carried away by the whole piece. This is a class act; go and see it. And since it runs at 75 minutes with no interval, you’ll have time for a cocktail or two afterwards.
Author: Jessica Walker
Director: Sarah Frankcom
Musical Director: Joseph Atkins
Producer: Jess Walker Music Theatre in association with Royal Exchange Theatre
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/305-all-i-want-is-one-night
Booking Until: 1 July 2017