Last night I went along to one of my favourite fringe venues, the Landor theatre in Clapham, for the start of their new West End Cabaret season, A Spotlight On…. Future performers in the season include the West End’s two Tracy Turnblads, Leanne Jones and Chloe Hart, and veteran performer Rosemary Ashe.
Last night, though, saw the turn of Lucy May Barker, who was part of the young West End cast of Spring Awakening and who has since performed in two National Theatre productions, Earthquakes in London and Really Old Like Forty Five.
The atmosphere was quite unlike most cabarets I have been to before. In part, this was due to a large portion of the audience being formed from Barker’s family and friends (and, as she quipped, “people who follow me on Twitter”). With so many other musical theatre performers in the audience, the effect was of a party atmosphere with one girl in control of the mic.
Not that anybdy would want to wrest it away from her, because boy, can she sing. The twenty songs she chose for her repertoire (some, she admitted, chosen for her by musical director George Dyer to make up the numbers, and others “pinched” from friends who she had seen performing them) demonstrate a keen ear for a good song. I’m not sure I can entirely forgive her for being a bit dismissive of Just Not Now from I Love You Because, but that’s more because it’s one of my favourite numbers from one of my favourite musicals. Barker doesn’t quite manage to match the performance Jodie Jacobs gave of the same number in the Landor’s production several years ago, but not many could – and, shorn of the context within the musical that lends an extra layer of poignancy to the lyrics, Barker made a good job of handling the emotion of the song within a cabaret setting.
Many performers who build up a cabaret repertoire also work hard on the patter between songs. No such planning was in evidence here, just a casual chat with friends in the audience, reminiscences of mutually shared anecdotes and some talk about the songs themselves. And while at times I did yearn for a bit more discipline and structure – moving from Suddenly Seymour (sung in duet with Jeremy Legat) to Part of Your World could have elicited even a small acknowledgement that they were both written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, for example – there was something very appealing about Barker’s carefree approach that made for a supremely relaxing evening.
The Landor’s small space is well suited to this sort of intimate cabaret, and the addition of three circular tables between the performer and the straight rows of seating help make the oblong room a little more human, softening the awkward little dogleg of seats at one end in the process. As a supplement to the venue’s reputation for good quality musical theatre, I really do hope their cabarets do well.