Fiona Coffey: A Touch of Mrs Robinson

the-look

Fiona Coffey as Mrs Robinson. Photo Zoe White

 

A Touch of Mrs Robinson is Fiona Coffey’s first attempt at cabaret, and she presents a very interesting idea. Mrs Robinson is a character from The Graduate, a novel written by Charles Webb in 1963, and made into a film directed by Mike Nicolls in 1967 featuring the great Anne Bancroft as Mrs Robinson. Set in a rich suburb in California, The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, aged 21, returning from college unsure of his future, and is seduced by Mrs Robinson, an older woman and the wife of his father’s business partner.

Fascinated by the foxy, predatory, rule-breaking Mrs Robinson, Coffey narrates her relationship with and thoughts about the character, and features songs to illustrate points along the way.

Coffey makes a stylish entrance singing a medley of Cool to Be Cool and Peel Me a Grape . Well costumed, she has a good presence about her. There are times when I feel she could ‘inhabit’ the character more deeply in terms of acting, but there is a nice air of hauteur, especially in her treatment of Musical Director Michael Roulston, with the silent expectation that he will pick up her leopard print coat from the floor .

Harold Sanditen has done a good job of directing this show. It is well structured in terms of narrative arc, has good placement of songs, and he makes full use of Roulston’s comic talents as well as his renowned musical ability. I particularly enjoyed Roulston’s portrayal of the hapless, conservative Mr Robinson, maintaining the casual expectation that she will deal with his coat as he hands it to her.

The excellent 3-piece band comprises Henry Gilbert on bass and Jonathan Kitching on drums, as well as Roulston at the piano. Playing Roulston’s superb arrangements, they occasionally join in the vocals, and contribute this way to some of the stand-out songs for the evening, including a great doo-wop version of Lucky Lips.

Vocally, Coffey’s best numbers are when she sings simply and uses a more legitimate singing sound. The stories and pathos come through well in Such Pretty People and Step Inside Love, which she makes her own.

There is much to recommend this show. It is a great concept, combining not only an unusual idea of creating a back narrative to an iconic fictional character, but a wry and amusing look at women’s history during the 1950’s and ‘60’s and the appeal this woman still has today.

There are fun devices for audience interaction too, with a competition to write the best Mrs Robinson seduction line, together with her plausible explanation as to why she would want her target to carry out certain outrageous tasks. There are sometimes contests on dressing like the character.

To take the show to its next level artistically, a suggestion would be to work on a more conversational style of patter, and to develop the different colours in her singing voice. Coffey has good pipes, and understands her character well. Better technique would enhance these qualities adding greater effect to her delivery.

These reservations aside, this is an entertaining piece and a very creditable first attempt at a notoriously tricky genre. The show tours occasionally, and I wish Coffey well with the future of it.

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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