Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1

Opened 23 September, 2009


For a while recently the Menier Chocolate Factory, which offers a theatre and restaurant under the same roof, had two of its productions playing in the West End: Trevor Nunn’s production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and the Terry Johnson-directed revival of La Cage Aux Folles. (The latter is still running, with John Barrowman now slipping into the principal set of frocks.) Agreeable musical theatre is the venue’s long suit. A show written and directed by Victoria Wood would therefore seem firmly within its constituency, and moreover to draw a guaranteed audience for the beloved wry northern songwriter and comedienne’s work.
And agreeable it certainly is, but alas no more than that. Talent was Wood’s first play, written in 1978 “not knowing any better”, as she admits in her programme essay. Set (mainly) backstage at a Mancunian “nitespot” on the evening of its talent contest, its dramatic territory is very much Wood, especially at that time when her career was just taking off. It also contains a generous clutch of her home-knitted-Alan-Bennett one-liners, such as explaining an acquaintance’s departure from a nunnery with “They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith”. And Roger Glossop’s design fully indulges the cheesy ’70s retro motif with, for instance, excruciating crimplene-wigged-head-to-platform-booted-toe costumes for a singing group and even a tatty backstage poster for the Barron Knights.
But, with the lion’s share of the 95-minute intervalless play consisting simply of wannabe singer Julie and her dowdy friend Maureen (Leanne Rowe and Suzie Toase in roles originally created by Julie Walters and Wood herself) sitting in the crappy dressing-room waiting to go on, it keeps feeling as if there should be more. Then, when the “more” comes in the form of musical numbers as one girl or other bares her heart to us in tragicomic song, it feels like too much, a series of gratuitous irruptions with choreography that knows its job is to break up the static feel but tries far too hard. Mark Curry works well as the squalid compere, and Mark Hadfield is as delicious as ever as a magician’s nervous assistant and, even better, in drag as the maitresse d’. But overall, this feels not so much like a presentation in itself as merely a component in a Menier supper-theatre evening.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2009

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage