Digital Theatre

Funny Girl


Digital Theatre

I’m not at all sure that Funny Girl is quite my thing, but how will I know unless I give it a go? We haven’t watched a musical since lockdown began, so at the very least it’ll be a change. And Sheridan Smith is bound to be good, isn’t she?

Oh yes, she is. Smith is a delightful performer; she oozes charisma, and her vocals are stunning. She’s lively and likeable, connecting easily with the audience, even via the small screen.

I’m not mad about the play though. It’s too slight and feels dated (well, it is over fifty years since Barbra Streisand wowed in the movie version). It’s a biographical piece about 1920s Broadway star Fanny Brice, and the central notion seems to be how very surprising it is that someone as plain as Fanny can become successful. She’s so talented she can overcome her looks! And a handsome man even falls in love with her! It’s all a bit too Susan-Boyle-backstory for me.

Of course, it’s true that beauty matters far too much in show business, even now; it’s all too credible. It’s just that the script seems to venerate Fanny for overcoming her ordinary features, rather than excoriating an industry that values the wrong things.

The love story is weak as well. Darius Campbell plays Nick Arnstein, but I never really believe in him as a debonair playboy, and I never really get why Fanny falls for him the way she does. She seems so much stronger than him and so self-sufficient; the story is reminiscent of A Star is Born, but without the same tension. Nick doesn’t ever seem to have a star for Fanny to eclipse.

Nevertheless, this is a lively, spirited piece of theatre; the two hours pass by pleasantly. The choreography is cheeky and upbeat, and director Michael Mayer sensibly foregrounds the humour throughout. Because Fanny’s good-natured clowning is genuinely funny, and Smith knows how to make it land.

In fact, she’s so much better than the material it’s almost a travesty. She saves it, just, by being so irresistible.

3 stars

Susan Singfield































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Iphigenia in Splott


Digital Theatre

Cursed with one of the most outlandish titles in recent history, Iphigenia in Splott, a raucous monologue written by Gary Owen and performed by Sophie Melville, offers a loose reworking of the classic Greek myth of Iphigenia, relocated to the town of Splott (yes, it’s a real place!) just south of Cardiff. I can only take it on trust that the equally outlandish accent employed throughout is an accurate one. (As a native of Wales, I think I’m allowed to say that.)

Melville plays Effie, a local girl who lives her life with the volume turned all the way up to eleven. Too much booze, too much sex, too much vomiting – it’s her way of coping with boredom in a town where most of the stores and places of entertainment have been shut down or burned down, and where redemption can only be found at the bottom of an ice bucket full of vodka. Or is there more than that?

Effie experiences something suspiciously like a revelation when she encounters ex-soldier Lee at a local bar and plunges headlong into a no-holds barred one-night-stand with him. Effie is suddenly, hopelessly in love and, for the first time in years, she glimpses some genuine hope. Is she being wildly optimistic when she dares to dream of a bright new future? 

Melville puts in a stellar performance here, spitting out her vehement, invective-splattered worldview with dazzling aplomb. It’s the kind of performance you’d expect to see at the Edinburgh Fringe, an hour’s worth of explosive drama that holds you in its vice-like grip from start to finish. And, towards the end, it becomes more than just Effie’s caustic point of view. Owen cleverly opens it out into a searing condemnation of current political thinking. The result is a powerful call to arms, a plea for politicians to consider the struggling strata of society that has been increasingly marginalised over the years.

The original Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, was sacrificed to ensure the success of the men who governed her. Effie too, in her own way, becomes a sacrificial victim of those who have devastated both our health service and the everyday aspirations of the working class.

This is bleak but compelling, a piece that speaks its mind and takes no prisoners.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney