Cabaret In Lauderdale House:

Rebecca Thornhill & Louise Davidson

Lauderdale House, Sunday 25 November 2007Dear Mr Gable/You Made Me Love You. (Harder because for a singer to try and make a number associated with a famous singer their own cannot be easy, as the audience will have a tendency to mentally compare with whoever). However, both these two ladies put their songs across well. They continued to mix and match, sometimes singing duets, sometimes solos. During the solos sometimes the performer not singing would wait on stage, sometimes off stage, it varied. Either Louise Davidson is very good at slinking quietly into the background when not actually performing, or perhaps Rebecca Thornhill just has the stronger stage presence. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both. Certainly although their duets are very much a double-act, Rebecca (who is slightly shorter) does dominate, somewhat. At one point Rebecca went off stage leaving Louise to hold the audience, with a number, My Ship from Lady In The Dark, which she introduces “a beautiful song”, and mentions that when she was in Lady In The Dark it was sung by Maria Friedman. This afternoon, Louise Davidson made My Ship her own (she must’ve done, because I couldn’t get the tune of it out of my head afterwards).

Towards the end of the first half, Louise Davidson went off stage, leaving Rebecca Thornhill alone out front, to tell the audience just where her passion for 1940s music comes from. When she went to college her mother gave her a whole bunch of old sheet music. Her college-mates thought she was very old-fashioned. Rebecca has even brought one of her pieces of music with her, and holds it up for all to see (it looked very well used). Rebecca tells us that one thing she feels has been lost, since the 1940s was community singing. She then launches into a song, which she invites the audience to join in. She sings it all the way through first, and then on getting the audience to join in prompts us with the starting lines. One of the joys of Lauderdale is the opportunity for the occasional audience sing-along. Obviously they have to do it in their Christmas shows. But at other times too. Tim McArthur seems to like to get the audience joining in, whether he’s being himself or “Sister Mary McArthur”; and who could forget the occasion two years ago when one former Mamma Mia Dynamo decided to get the audience to sing Abba in Japanese. This afternoon the audience once again joined in enthusiastically, even though I’m not sure how many of us had any familiarity with the song beforehand. But a good time was had by all.

Louise Davidson returns to the stage dressed as a tramp, a la Judy Garland. We can all guess exactly what number they are going to do. Rebecca Thornhill makes her exit for “a quick change”, leaving Louise to entertain the audience. This she proceeds to do by telling us a bit about the history of the film from which the number comes, and she connects really well with the audience as she does so. The time flies by and soon Rebecca returns to the stage also dressed as a tramp for We’re A Couple Of Swells. Both ladies have even added grime to their make-up and black wigs. Louise’s wig fell off as soon as she went to lift her hat. A few moments later Rebecca’s fell off too, was that in sympathy? But like the professional Supertroupers that they are the pair carried on regardless. They sing and dance with such riotous fun, that they make the number pretty much their own; (even if we are all familiar with Garland and Astaire in the film). I think Rebecca is sort of meant to be taking Judy Garland’s part and Louise is taking Fred Astaire’s. It isn’t just their singing and acting that make this number. Their dancing too is terrific, who choreographed it? It’s just as well it ended the first half, because I doubt if even this extraordinary double act could have followed it straight away.


The second half opens with another stunning surprise. The dynamic duo are dressed in gorgeous glittering red show dresses, a la Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. They also wear matching red shoes, and a good deal of costume jewellery. “But no wigs” this time “they fall off” remarked one of them (after the number). They are of course singing and dancing I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock. I once heard such a terrific version (in one of Ian Marshall-Fisher’s Lost Musicals) so it’s hard for me to feel that anyone can make it their own. Yet somehow this duo do make it so much their own, that for the time being (at least while they are up their doing it) one can forget about anyone else’s version of that song. And as for there dancing, Wow! this just gets better and better. So well done there.

                The costumes look truly stunning, and there’s an added element of surprise when Louise informs us that Rebecca actually made them herself. What a multitalented lady Rebecca Thornhill is. One of Louise’s bracelets (on her right arm) worked itself loose, a detail she silently indicated to her friend, who promptly came over and fixed it for her. I can’t remember what the next number was, other than that the pair briefly wondered if their costume jewellery was suitable, and decided, quite rightly that, it didn’t matter.

The second half continued in a similar manner to the first, a mixture of duets and solos. This included a couple of excerpts from Showboat, they explain they were both in it at the Albert Hall, where there were a lot of problems with the acoustics, and the singers couldn’t hear the orchestra, but they themselves couldn’t be heard easily either. Apparently the cast nicknamed it “Shout Boat”. You know a show is in trouble when it gets nicknamed, don’t you? (think of “Not So Hot In November”, “Closed A Little Sooner”, and, “Fielding’s Folly”). One thing the duo seem to forget to mention is that Showboat actually dates to 1927. It did however have a major Broadway revival in 1945 (a revival for which Kern even wrote additional material – the last time he would do so), therefore I guess it does count as 1940s, with two such delightful performers one’s got to have some leeway. Besides it gives them an opportunity to indulge their voices in classic Kern. Rebecca sings a beautiful Bill, while Louise does an entirely satisfactory Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, which in all fairness to her is the more legendary song.

At another point Rebecca goes off-stage, to fetch a feather-boa for her number, leaving Louise to hold the audience with Irving Berlin’s classic You Must’ve Been A Beautiful Baby. Overall Louise Davidson is a puzzling performer. When she’s in the chorus she’s so quietly in the background getting on with her job, that one doesn’t always notice her. You might not expect her to be able to hold an audience as well as she in fact can.. Since Lauderdale cabarets are delightfully are unmiked she sang it out with a fair amount of power, though I have heard one more powerful singer at Lauderdale. But she did a good job with the song, and kept the audience entertained.

Rebecca returned to the stage, Louise exits with something along the lines of “See you in a minuet”, and returns part way through the number to join in with dialogue, but she stands subtly at the back, making it clear it’s Rebecca’s number, she’s only there as the supporting player.

                The pair close the show with another of their tremendously enthusiastic song and dance spectaculars, Kander & Ebb’s I’m Everybody’s Girl. That song seems to be becoming a bit of a favourite among cabaret performers, but I’ve never heard anyone sing it quite as well as these two. Originally a solo, but this afternoon they turned it into a stunning duet, so it became “We’re Everybody’s Girl”. Again the choreography was just brilliant, and was their shear verve and joi de verve. I think both of them brought elements of their own stage roles to this number. Rebecca had a hint of Ragtime’s Evelyn Nesbitt about her, while Louise had more than a touch of Zip Goes A Million’s Lilac Deleney in her performance (even her “Spanish”-style accent was reminiscent of Lilac doing that South American number). They got such thoroughly well deserved applause that Tim McArthur had to ask them to do an encore. One of them said something about not having another number prepared. Nevertheless game girls that they are they returned to the stage, and declaring that it wasn’t quite Christmas, yet, agreed to sing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Which they did beautifully. It was simple, delightful, and made, what Howard Keel would have called a great “Get off song”. It seemed to sum up exactly what they had done throughout the show, it’s a classic, one which needs handling sensitively, which is exactly how they do handle it.


All in all surely one of the best cabaret’s Lauderdale House has hosted. In fact I’ve only seen one other act here that I liked even more, and as that had been by someone I’m rather a fan of, well I’m biased. This afternoon’s entertainment was jolly good fun. And surprisingly clean fun as well.

So many cabarets, seem to take Sex, and Women Talking About Men as their themes, that well one can get a little boring, after the umpteenth time. While a lot of cabarets (particularly solo acts) tend to take their performer’s Life History as their theme, which is great for performers like Liz Robertson, or Louise Gold, because they have a truly interesting story to tell with a strong element of ‘Living History’; but that too can get tedious with less unusual performers. It makes a nice change to have two performers who are simply a couple’ a showgirls, up here having fun doing the songs they really enjoy, entertaining the audience with a good old fashioned smash hit entertainment. Yes there was a 1940s theme, but in fact they didn’t stick too rigidly to that, managing to include a 1997 number by Kander & Ebb, and of course class 1920s Kern. It certainly made a nice change from some of that popsical modern musical theatre stuff (such as the awful Gerad Presgarvic)

The pair perform with great professionalism. Yes with some of the classic songs there may have been other singers who did a better version of a number. But these two do a jolly good job, and at least for the duration of the entertainment one is usually able to forget about other people’s versions of the songs. While as for their wonderful dancing. Well I don’t think Cabaret In The House has ever had an act with so much splendid dancing, Who choreographed them?  As for the little problem with the wigs at the end of the first half, well Cabaret In The House has known much worse mishaps than that (who remembers the 2002 Hampstead and Highgate Arts Festival Cabaret Special?). As a double-act they are very much a double-act, although Rebecca is the more dominant of the pair, so that when they are on stage together she’s the one an audience will tend to focus on. However, Louise makes a splendidly strong supporting player; and they really make a good team.

                Rebecca Thornhill is one of those multi-talented Arts Ed gals (whom that institution ought to be really proud of). She has a real star quality about her. She can light up the stage, and one just can’t help but notice her, whatever she is doing on the stage. But her showiness is not superficial, there is a genuine tremendous talent behind it. But she’s more than just an actress-singer-dancer. Her costume creations look great, and she’s a very inventive talented writer too (as her contributions a Theatrecares gala last October proved).Let’s hope that versatile Rebecca Thornhill becomes one of British musical theatre’s brightest stars. She’s a talent that deserves to be even better known than she already is.

Judging by her resume in various theatre programmes, Louise Davidson seems to be on her way to becoming a latter-day Lenora Nemetz in the making. Given the current West End trend for big long-running shows (requiring holidays) and the casting of ‘celebrities’ (who can’t always hack it); that’s not necessarily a bad thing to be. Come to think of it, I’d like to hear her sing Dan Goggin’s Playing Second Fiddle.

But the best thing about Rebecca Thornhill and Louise Davidson, besides their wonderful song and dance (and acting) talents, is that both ladies seem to have such a genuine appreciation for the material they are performing, and also a strong sense of history. They also connect really well with the audience, and both have such nice gentle genuine smiles; that it is a real pleasure to be entertained by two such lovely actresses.





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