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Better Than Sex: The Story of Mae West, Toulouse Lautrec – Review

Emily Hutt's tell-all cabaret on the 1930's limelight icon Mae West follows almost pedantically the chronology of her life events, to the detriment of a sought-after dramatic climax. West – embodied by the talented Bella Bevan – takes centre stage with the accompaniment of pianist Kieran Stallard, and alternates tales from her past with some of her most recognisable songs. A promising opening scene involves some of the biting one-liners that made the artist famous, smattered with sexual innuendos and proudly boasting her licentious conduct. Sustained comic timing and the unexpected breaking of the fourth wall contribute to warm up…

Summary

Rating

Good

With its 50-minute running time, the embryonal biopic of 1930's limelight icon Mae West promises more than it's ready to deliver.

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Emily Hutt’s tell-all cabaret on the 1930’s limelight icon Mae West follows almost pedantically the chronology of her life events, to the detriment of a sought-after dramatic climax.

West – embodied by the talented Bella Bevan – takes centre stage with the accompaniment of pianist Kieran Stallard, and alternates tales from her past with some of her most recognisable songs.

A promising opening scene involves some of the biting one-liners that made the artist famous, smattered with sexual innuendos and proudly boasting her licentious conduct. Sustained comic timing and the unexpected breaking of the fourth wall contribute to warm up the punters sat around the small, marble-topped tables of the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club.

Born on the verge of the 20th century, Mary Jane West started entertaining crowds at the age of five, with a visible passion for performing that soon turned into a profession. Her first Broadway appearance, aged 18, introduced Mary to the wider public and inspired her to start writing her own plays. The first self-penned starring role to hit the stage was part of a risqué piece called Sex, which also caused her to be arrested. 

Close to her forties, West swapped the limelight for the silver screen, where she also insisted on having an active input during the creative process. Her unmistakably irreverent attitude earned her great popularity amongst the public, whereas, at the same time, she fought a lifelong battle against censorship. According to her own account, this controversy earned her the biggest fortune and ensured the immortality of her character.

Bella Bevan is a charismatic interpreter of West’s eccentric persona and her performance flourishes in classics like ‘A Guy What Takes His Time’ and ‘I’m No Angel’. The execution of excerpts, rather than full songs, helps to keep the lively pace expected in a cabaret. However, after a few successions of music and spoken word, the show starts becoming samey.

Fortunately, with a succinct running time of only 50 minutes, the account reaches an abrupt end when the attention is still at its peak. When the lights go up in the lofty venue, the audience seems startled, expecting perhaps an encore or a more theatrical finale.

Wanting to explore the life and deeds of the undisputed queen of double entendre, Temporarily Misplaced Productions delivers an intriguing embryonal work which still has significant potential for research and development.

Written and Directed By: Emily Hutt
Producer: Temporarily Misplaced Productions
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run

About Marianna Meloni

Marianna Meloni
Marianna, being Italian, has an opinion on just about everything and believes that anything deserves an honest review. Her dream has always been to become an arts critic and, after collecting a few degrees, she realised that it was easier to start writing in a foreign language than finding a job in her home country. In the UK, she tried the route of grown-up employment but soon understood that the arts and live events are highly addictive.