Celia Imrie: Laughing Matters

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Celia Imrie engaging and charming in first attempt at cabaret at St James Studio. Read review here.

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Tristan Temple, Celia Imri and Todd Talbot in Laughing Matters at St James Studio

Celia Imrie, star of stage, film, radio and television, perhaps particularly well-known for her work with Victoria Wood, is fast gaining the iconic title of ‘national treasure’.  Laughing Matters is her first foray into the world of cabaret, and having been first produced at the Crazy Coqs last year, the act has been refined and re-worked for the more theatrical space of St James Studio.

Accompanied by pianist Andy Massey and drummer Toby Drummond, and two hunky male dancers Tristan Temple and Todd Talbot, this show is almost a mini musical of Imrie’s professional life. The songs and monologues are linked together by personal anecdote, and have a big musical theatre feel about them with production values to match.

The numbers are tightly, and very effectively, choreographed by Steven Harris, and the dancers furnish Imrie with props and quite elaborate costume changes, and the show has a huge razzamatazz finish.

As a cabaret, one could say the show is somewhat over-ornamented, but as a piece of entertainment, it is charming, effervescent and quite delightful. The humour, for the most part, is gentle rather than side-splitting, and the piece has a strong enough structure to keep the surprises coming.

Some of the spoken pieces are splendidly done. Two that stood out were her beautifully underplayed Common Talk by Alan Melville, and the horribly familiar scene presented in Lynda LaPlante’s Gas Bill.

Whilst Imrie could not be described as a great singer, she tackles fiendishly difficult patter songs, such as Bill Solly’s crazily rapid lyrics in Rondo à la Turk, set to an adapted piano sonata by Mozart, with clarity and aplomb.

Also, her treatment of ballads Once Upon A Time and Laughing Matters is both charming and tender. These songs were, in fact, amongst her best and I would like to encourage Imrie to forego some the more ‘show-bizzy’ confectionery and employ more of her ability to simply connect with and relate to us through the medium of song.

Cabaret is difficult – more than is commonly realised – and it takes enormous courage to get up on stage in an intimate venue and expose oneself in this way.  Imrie is still experimenting with this artform, and not all of it worked.  Smut, for example, the sketch on double-entendres, is considerably less successful than the older sketches, such as Tomas Meehan’s Yme Dream describing a hostess’s nightmare of giving a party where all the guests have 3 letter names, and she has the impossible task of introducing them to each other.

I would also love to see more of Imri’s true self – her opinions and thoughts, and a lot more opening up. This is an essential, though frightening, element of cabaret.  The late Erv Raible, highly respected US based studio programmer and teacher of the art of cabaret, used to say “Cabaret is being yourself – only on purpose!”

Reservations aside, however, this is a very entertaining show, appealing and engaging throughout. And Celia Imrie is brave, funny and utterly loveable.

Fiona-Jane Weston

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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