Despite winning Natalie Portman an Oscar last year, “Black Swan” was such a ghastly melodrama of a film that it thoroughly deserves the urine extraction treatment given to it by the fabulous Trevor Ashley and Phil Scott in their shockingly “naughty” adult panto. Both are clearly Ornithologists. As well as the “swan” of the title, the original is given “the bird”, there’s a lot of “goosing”, a totally “cuckoo” leading lady, lots of performances to “crow” about, plus an homage to “owls”…..the entire show is one hoot after another.
Ashley plays Natalie Portly – a body-dysmorphic neurotic ballerina with the mother from hell. He’s far more charismatic than the film’s leading actress, and has a great singing voice, and a shapely pair of drumsticks. Despite the language (the show is R rated) and the crass bawdiness of it all, Ashley’s Fat Swan Natalie remains endearing throughout and he forges a strong connection with his audience through the kind of audience participation last seen in the eighties in various theatre restaurants. He is a performer of the past and the future, blending risk taking and tried and true material with an approach that is current and refreshing. One suspects he will keep getting better with age and the mere mention of his name will ensure bums on seats.
In a cast of four, Brendan Moar, as the mediocre choreographer, seems the odd one out. For a start, he’s the only male(!) character and is better known to most of us from his gardening programmes on Pay TV. But he has natural charm and a warm stage presence and is more than capable of holding his own…..though he does try to get Ms Portly to hold it for him. His inclusion in the cast is a pleasant surprise indeed. Danielle Barnes as the rival ballerina (whose name I can’t put in print even if I disguised the spelling) is a pocket rocket triple threat who has graced our stages in many musicals…most recently in Jersey Boys. She’s a dynamo with a great singing voice who could even be a scene stealer if it were not for the 4th member of the cast. Genevieve Lemon is, quite simply, fantastic. Always a fine comedic performer, her two years on the West End Stage have given her extra finesse and confidence, and her timing is exquisite. She takes the role of the Fat Swan’s mother to dizzying OTT heights which would scare most actresses. Ashley generously allows her to frequently upstage him, and the (mostly rehearsed) adlibs between them are filled with mutual respect and affection. She is part Joan Crawford, mostly Bette Davis and a one person Baby Jane! (Whatever happened to her?) It’s all wonderful fun.
This is a return season, but it’s a joyous night out which deserves more than one visit. With the amazing Michael Tyack as musical director, this laughter filled pastiche is a must see, provided you don’t have a weak heart. No-one has yet died laughing, but there’s still time.
Earlier Coverage - Coral interviews Genevieve Lemon.