Last night I received an invite to Proud Cabaret to see the “The Follow Spot”. The show is a variety show of sorts, the variety being different singers. Our hostess for the evening is the incredibly talented Jess Robinson who, with her talent for imitation has starred in “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” and the TV shows “Dead Ringers” and “The Impressions Show with Culshaw and Stephenson” to name but a few. Jess quickly gets the audience on board as she strolls on to the stage in full voice making contact both physically and verbally with those of us closest to her. A live band, headed by the very talented Simon Pickering accompanies Jess.
They all appear to have a natural chemistry that allows them to work in harmony together, have little jokes and produce some amazing work. This is important with the majority of their performances being improvised. Yes, ‘tis true. Either side of the stage are two large wheels similar to those seen on gameshows (with the word wheel in their titles!) On one, we have the faces of eight celebrities (although Sonia Jackson barely fits under that umbrella!) and on the other wheel, we have eight song titles. Members of the audience are asked to spin the wheels and in doing so (some rather more exuberantly than others) we are given a song to be sung in the style of……… you get the picture.
Ace of Spades sung in the style of Lily Allen. Well move over Motorhead I think we have a winner. Jess not only captures the voice but also has the mannerisms of Miss Allen down to a tee. Throughout the rest of the night we are treated to Poker Face by Marilyn Monroe, Bohemian Rhapsody by Sonia Jackson and 500 miles by Katherine Jenkins. Then, just to prove that none of this has been set up and therefore not improvised, the audience are invited to shout out randomly and between us we get Wonder Wall sung by (my offering) Shirley Bassey. This was carried off with such aplomb that I speculate had La Bassey heard it she would have been left shaking in her sequins for fear of being usurped! All in all Jess Robinson is the perfect hostess for the evening with her irreverent humour, incredible singing talent and a touch of potty mouth.
We then have the other stars of the show. I cannot go on too much about them as this review is supposed to be about the headline act and I cannot make it so long that it makes War and Peace look like a novella! That being said, I cannot ignore them either. First was Jack Shaloo. A cheeky sort of chap with his oh so fashionable ginger hair Jack sings some self-penned songs and a couple of covers including a really rather beautiful version of Sam Smiths “Lay Me Down” which I felt guilty for eating through in case the noise of my cutlery intruded upon his exquisite vocals. With his accent, humour and all round demeanour he is like Madness in a musical! (The band not the condition!) Jack album “London Soul” is available now.
Laurence Owen was our next gift. He said that he was in the process of writing a musical in which he was to play all the characters and we then witness a Disneyesque marvel. The soundtrack starts and (with a little imagination from the audience) we have before us a typical Disney female who is searching for her way in life. She receives advice from a “Bluebird” who, with his rasping New York accent appears rather bitter. He even gets his own song all about the troubles of a Bluebird trying to make it in that business that we all call show! The moral of Laurence’s story, it seems is that if you want to have fun in life, or at least his wonderful, cartoon inspired life then you are best off being an Evil Queen. A quick stroll down Old Compton street any day of the week will prove to you that this idea is adhered to on quite a scale.
Anyway, it is now on to the main reason why I was there. Miss Julie Atherton. For the less enlightened, Julie Atherton is a British actress who is known for her stage work. She has starred in shows such as Avenue Q (West End and Broadway), Sister Act: The Musical, Fame, and Mama Mia! and many more She has also released three albums, the latest being “Rush of Life”, released November 2014 and available now.
I have to admit that only having seen Julie live in Avenue Q before that I did think that she was American. Opening the show last night did nothing to dispel those thoughts as her singing voice and style is very obviously influenced by the belles of Broadway. I was most surprised to then hear her speak in a totally unaffected Lancashire accent and discover she is in fact one of our own. We are lucky to have her as she has a talent that far outweighs many offerings that are tossed into the forum today. She’s an incredible voice that can give us a soft, tear inducing love song to a “knock you out of your seat” belter. Julie doesn’t just sing the songs however, she acts them too. In fact I would go further and say that she embodies them. Gestures, looks, mannerisms. She gives us the lot in bucket loads. She also, unlike some singers can talk to the audience between songs with humour and lightness that makes you want to be her friend. Ms Atherton is also a keen advocate for new musical work and will be a force to reckon with in the future. With a repertoire that goes from Skunk Anansie to Sondheim she’s a big voice destined to be heard for a long time to come.
All in all, The Follow Spot is the sort of show that has been missing from the London scene for some time. Firstly for the spectacular venue, Proud Cabaret (1 Mark Lane. London. EC3R 7AH) with its plush boudoir style, velveteen banquettes and soft lighting. You can get reasonably priced food which, I can say with authority was absolutely delicious and worth going back for. The staff are friendly and attentive without being pushy and the Prosecco left me giddy as a kipper!
This was only the third show here by West End On Sea productions but they have a whole spring season arranged with some top names from theatre such as Daniel Boys and Ben Richards. Peruse the world of social media for all the details. A list of which I will add below.
Review by Dickie Neil
Twitter: @JessieRobinson @westendonsea @proudcabaret @Julie_Atherton @JackShaloo and @LaurenceOwen
Monday 2nd March 2015