Review: Victor / Victoria, Southwark Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

It’s 1930’s ‘Gay Paree’ and singer Victoria Grant is down on her luck. Unable to get a break, the wannabe starlet finds a friendship in Toddy, a performer at Chez Lui, who is inspired to transform his talented new companion into the next international female impersonator. To Victoria, a woman playing a man playing a woman is quite a ludicrous notion, but not to Toddy when you consider his protege has “very athletic legs for a soprano”.

The Southwalk Playhouse vault is transformed into a glitzy, but shadowy cabaret space. It’s an atmospheric setting that underpins Toddy’s warning that “Paris can be a dangerous affair”. This is by no means a dangerous production in the traditional sense though. What Sutherland delivers is a fast-paced, light, witty, and beautifully performed musical. There’s no shying away from camping it up either.

Sutherland delivers is a fast-paced, light, witty, and beautifully performed musical.

Anna Francolini dazzles in the title role, a skilled performance of bold choices and a vocal technique right on the money. There’s a quality to her voice reminiscent of Julie Andrews’ who first played the role in Blake Edwards 1982 film. Yet Francolini’s offering is harder, moodier, certainly butcher in the transformation. And a joy to watch. There are moments in the home run when the character softens which could go even further, reinforcing her intimacy particularly with Toddy. A minor point really, when you consider this is an otherwise solid central performance.

Toddy is played with real wit and charisma by Richard Dempsey. He rather puts one in mind of a young Alan Cumming and certainly gets the best gags: “You must have been in the Army?” to which he replies “Once or twice”. Cheap perhaps, but each one hits the spot and brings the house down every time.

There is also a super supporting performance from Kate Nelson as the ditzy gangster’s moll Norma Cassidy. When she discovers Victor is in fact ‘all-woman’, the stage ruptures with the most hilarious fury.

But it’s really Jean Perkins who gets the award for ‘show-stealer’ in a range of comic roles. It’s a testament of her generosity that enables her to have the audience in the palm of her hand with every one, whilst never over-playing.

It is a shame then that the book can occasionally irritate. A tough Chicago gangster entering a scene with the line “Hello Faggot” is slack and there are more than a few of those. It’s also unfortunate that some of the numbers plod along without much piz-zazz. Though ‘Le Jazz Hot’ certainly makes up for that. Choreographer Lee Proud delivers a dance number that is sexy and flamboyant on every beat.

Victor/ Victoria can be likened to La Cage Aux Folles at the intimate Menier Chocolate Factory. It was a delight to see that transfer to the West End, and the same can be said about this revival should it look to find an audience in town.

**** (4 stars)
Runs until 15th December 2012
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