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Review of Cautionary Tales for Daughters – Jermyn Street Theatre

Cautionary Tales by Scott Wishart
Cautionary Tales by Scott Wishart

It’s wry observations and musical numbers broadly in the style of Pam Ayres, though Cautionary Tales for Daughters is, as the title suggests, aimed at a rather narrower audience. I can’t imagine there would be many impressionable younger theatregoers who would come along to a show with a title like this – it almost smacks of wanting to warn ‘young people’ (whoever they may be) not to learn to drive, because of the possibility of them being involved in a road traffic accident. The audience demographic at the performance I attended was somewhat skewed by it being a press night, but nonetheless it was a trendily dressed young couple who found themselves time and again being spoken to directly (always very courteously, mind you) whenever some advice was being dispensed that may be of benefit to that generation.

Usually, the details of how the show was put together are reserved for a lengthy article or two in the programme. They’re sprinkled throughout the show itself here, however, which I found helpful, especially when it became clear what sort of ‘cautionary tales’ Tanya Holt, accompanied by Birgitta Kenyon, wanted to tell. After all, given that all women are or have been someone’s daughter, the show, with a title like this one, could have ended up unfocused and trying too hard to be all encompassing.

Not everything is amusing, but as the programme points out, “Everything you hear is somebody’s true story.” When the subject matters under dissection are taken into account, it’s probably just as well that there are poignant moments as well as funny ones. Some of the songs towards the end of the first half felt too repetitive, long and detailed as they are. A number of songs were in a very similar mellow style, and I would have liked the first half to have had the sort of variety of melodies and tempos that the audience enjoyed in the second. Indeed, for all the songs in the show, its strongest moment is spoken not sung. A long monologue about the dangers of social media was both witty and relatively hard-hitting.

There’s a perfectly manageable amount of audience participation. (Nobody in the audience, I assure you, is asked to go on stage.) The video projections and animations run slickly and smoothly. A song that began as being about a girl who wants to be a cowboy ended up being more about gender stereotypes – just one example of how a narrative is always spun out of every song. Although the on-stage duo seek to provide a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere (those motherly instincts, y’see), I found it difficult not to be on the edge of my seat more often than not. I didn’t even agree with all the advice dispensed – and I’m sure I can’t have been the only one in the audience that could come up with credible examples to support alternative theories and lines of thinking.

Overall, this is a more than satisfying production, sympathetic and good-natured even when dealing with serious and gritty topics. A gratifying theatrical experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Drawing on her own unconventional upbringing, composer, Tanya Holt, takes the audience on a foray through comedy, live music and original animation to the dark heart of growing-up and the dark arts of parenting.

Tales of the hapless, feckless and foolish stand as stark warnings. Meet Cherry – the Amazing YoYo Girl, an obsessive dieter caught between gluttony and vanity; Chanel – The Labelled Girl, whose criminal obsession with designer clothes leads to her grisly demise; and fickle Princess Sylvia who only realises she could have had anything and anyone when it’s too late. Arabella Dair learns that youth, good looks and cheesecake are soon gone, but cyberspace goes on and on. Be careful what you share folks!

It’s Not OK is a heart-rending compilation of true and sometimes disturbing real-life stories drawn from group discussions undertaken with men and women in Lambeth, London, where Tanya lives.

Real-life stories submitted by the public cast a playful, sometimes painfully honest, light on the challenges, travails and triumphs of parenthood. As part of the performance the audience get to anonymously contribute their own words of caution and advice.

Fair Warning in association with Jermyn Street Theatre
Songs your mother never taught you
Written, composed and performed by Tanya Holt
Director / contributing writer: Robin Kingsland
Contributing composer: Daniel Dibdin
Videography & screen design Vesna Krebs
Jermyn Street Theatre
January 30th 2017 – February 11th 2017
Press performance January 31 – 7.30pm


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