Hampstead & Highgate Festival Cabaret Special:
Van Randwyck Louise Gold
Lauderdale House, 19th May 2002
Review by Emma Shane
© 20 May 2002
The evening was originally supposed to have featured Issy Van Randwyck and Tim McArthur. Unfortunately Issy Van Randwyck was unable to do the show, fortunately Louise Gold kindly agreed to step in at short notice. So in place of a small blond Dutch Baroness; we had a complete contrast, in the form of a tall redheaded English Political-Satirical-actress-cum-puppeteer.
The first half of the evening consisted of Tim McArthur giving a preview of his new cabaret act. His singing was much better than his sung introductions at the Lauderdale House Cabaret back in February, and it turns out he actually has a pleasant singing voice, and certainly given the right sort of material (Kander And Ebb songs such as: Coloured Lights and Maybe This Time see quite apt) is rather good. He is also pretty good at comedy numbers, such as that Hotel Receptionist number. And a very funny satire about William of Windsor, which events turned out was, in a way, a foretaste of satire to come.
The second half of the evening started with pianist Jason Carr walking on and immediately starting up Louise Gold’s entrance music, An Earful Of Music. On sweeps the commandingly magnificent Louise Gold who immediately launches into her opening medley, starting with An Earful Of Music, this set the tone for the second half, as what we are getting here is an earful of Gold, which with her rich powerful voice is quite something! This is followed by another Merman-style belting excerpt, The Leader Of A Bigtime Band. (One of the numerous phrases often used to describe Louise Gold is “The English Ethel Merman”). Louise was glorious with this excerpt, making excellent use of her body, and her expressive left-hand to act out the song. This is followed by A Little Rumba Number, which she does very well, as one would expect, and concludes with Can Can. Although one could not fault her performance of the number, I felt that the accents she slipped into were not quite as well defined as when she had done it previously, that said she does it well and it is still far far more interesting than anyone else’s version of that song would be; and, to my delight, at the end of it she included a line dropped form the Jermyn Street performance, “Jump Splits”, or rather as she admits a moment later she “didn’t actually do jump splits” but hoped most of us couldn’t see that. Getting up off the floor (where the number had ended) Louise goes to the back of the stage get a drink of water, somewhat to surprise of her pianist, who said “I thought you were about to leave”, but who, ever the boy scout, says he has a number up his sleeve just in case.
Having opened the show, Louise Gold tells us that when they were putting this show together they thought about giving it quite serious theme involving World History, Nuclear Physics, and Feminism in the early works of Walt Disney, before deciding that perhaps it would be better if she just sang some nice songs “So this evening could be called ‘Louise Gold Sings Some Nice Songs’”. Our performer then decides to make it quite clear who she is, by introducing herself to the audience, and explaining why the Dutch Clog-dancing Baroness Issy Van Randwyck was unable to perform. The Baroness has just had a baby, so as a result tonight’s entertainment is now in the capable hands of this jolly English actress-cum-puppeteer Louise Gold (who, incidentally has something of a progressive heritage).
Having made her identity quite clear, Louise Gold sits down on a chair, a bit sooner than she intended to, then realises this does not matter greatly, as she says “I can sit down when I want, it’s MY show”, and finally tells us about the time she worked for Mike Leigh on the film Topsy Turvy; wanting to impress him, she suggested the first thing she should do was learn The Mikado, only to be told “Louise, The Mikado hasn’t even been written yet”. As that operetta has now been written, we get treated to the sweet and tender side of Louise Gold’s beautiful singing voice as she performs for us The Sun Whose Rays.
Slipping off the chair, Louise stands by the piano, for a complete contrast of a song, Lovers For A Day, which she sang pretty powerfully, and yet proved to switch easily between the powerful anger of the chorus, to the tender touchingness of the sad verses. At the number’s conclusion she tells us the song was written by Marguerite Monnot, whom she kept referring to in rehearsals as Madeline Monnot, who actually made sparkly make-up in the 70’s. Louise, we should remember, like the character she recently played in Mamma Mia, is, after all, a seventies girl.
Ms Gold goes to sit down again, and begins to explain that she’s been in two Sondheim shows, but this next song is from one she hasn’t been in, Into The Woods, meanwhile Jason Carr starts up the introduction to the song. Then Louise realises she’s forgotten to take her tailcoat off, and so gets up and does so. Although the overall effect of her costume is broadly similar to the previous two shows, I think she had swapped her sleeveless black top for a sleeveless white one, and I’m not sure if the tailcoat was the same or not. Sitting down again, Louise asks Jason to replay the intro “to set the scene”. He obligingly does so, and she launches into one of the sweetest numbers in her act, Children Will Listen. I must confess I’ve seen Into The Woods and the song didn’t make any impression on me when I saw it in that show (I didn’t even remember it being in there), but perhaps that is down to how well it is performed. It is a number which Louise Gold sings it with a great deal of feeling, as though she really and truly means it. And it is perhaps particularly apt, given the circumstances that have caused her to be performing this evening.
Time for another startling change of style. And this time we get something that only Louise Gold could possibly do in a cabaret performance. If members of the audience did not think they had come across Louise Gold before, then this medley should change all that, and fix it firmly in everyone’s minds exactly who we have the pleasure of watching. Standing there in the Lauderdale stage area, Louise tells us that when she was about twenty her agent sent for an audition for a TV show “Where the leading man was a frog, the leading lady was a pig, and the comedian was a bear”, at which Jason joins her for the punch line “No he’s not he’s a wearing a necktie” and Louise poses for the audience. It must be said that I think they deliver this Gags Beasley joke (at least I presume this joke is by the legendary Gags Beasley) somewhat better than film director Frank Oz did it when he originally performed the joke many years ago on television. Louise continues, by telling us that “The frog asked me if I could do silly voices, the pig asked me if I could keep my hands off the frog, and the bear said “Wocka Wocka Wocka”” (at this point, of course, Louise, born-voice-artiste that she is, gives a little imitation of Frank Oz’s Fozzie bear saying “Wocka Wocka Wocka”). Then, if we hadn’t already guessed Louise Gold (the first British puppeteer to work for Jim Henson’s company, and indeed probably their most notable British puppeteer) explains that this was how she got to work on The Muppet Show, and, bearing in mind how “puppets cross barriers from children to adult, race, creed, colour, black, white, green”, launches into an Around The World With The Muppets medley. Starting off with the sweet and sincere It’s A Small World, she then launches into, which I think is perhaps her best performance in the medley The Girlfriend Of The Whirling Dervish. Picking up her large yellow torch (which was on the windowsill), ‘The English Muppet’ informs us she has brought her own lighting so she can move amongst us, and proceeds to walk down the aisle, shining the light on her own lovely face, singing all the while. She plays around with it a bit at the back, and then saying excuse me to anyone in her way, rushes back down the aisle to the stage area, from where she continues to play her torch in the audience, and anything else that catches her eye. She hasn’t just brought her own lighting, she’s brought her own lighting effects! Putting the torch down, Louise glances round, and noticing the carpets hanging up all round the walls, walks over to one of them, and stands just by/behind it to sing a Hawaiian War Chant. It is very nice to hear Louise Gold sing in something like her Annie Sue voice (Annie Sue Pig, who was Miss Piggy’s sweet young talented admirer and rival on The Muppet Show, is Louise’s best known Muppet character, it was designed especially for her, not long after she joined The Muppets). However, the excerpt did not work quite as well as some of the other songs in the medley, perhaps partly because Louise nearly corpsed midway through it, although luckily she managed to control herself so it wasn’t too noticeable. This was followed by the Tico Tico, which is pretty energetic, and given that fast tempo singing is not exactly her strong point, she actually handles it quite well. The medley concluded with a reprise of Its A Small World, with Louise Gold delightfully showing off wonderful ability to change accent all the time, by reprising all the accents she had done in the medley. At the end the pianist asks “Was that World History or Nuclear Physics?” the Muppeteer does not miss a beat “I think it was feminism in the early works of Walt Disney” retorts Louise (it is perhaps worth noting that her mother was notably involved with feminism in London’s Unity Theatre shows).
Switching from Muppeteer to actress mode Louise informs us that the next two songs were written 30 years apart, but share a similar unsentimental view on love, and instructing Jason Carr to “Hold the piano lid, darhling”, springs up onto the piano. Sprawled on her back on the piano, Ms Gold proceeds to sing It’s Alright With Me, by Cole Porter. Midway through the song she changes position to sprawl on her right side (a position she has probably been in many a time as a puppeteer, although perhaps not on top of a piano). Her singing is as wonderfully good as one should expect when hearing Louise Gold sing Cole Porter, she has such a wonderful way with his songs, it is always a joy to hear her do them. In this particular instance, although the song was really talking about love, it was also another number that turned out to be rather apt, for it could be reflecting the audience’s reaction to her. Louise Gold may not be the singer most of them had originally been intending to see, but she’s alright with us, isn’t she? For the second song, Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, by Karla Bonhoff, Louise started by kneeling on top of the piano, and then unfurled her right leg, so she was part kneeling and part sitting on the piano. During this number, which she sang with a lot of passion, I was struck, as I often am when hearing Louise Gold sing, by the sheer volume her pipes can generate. If you can imagine a singer with the power of Ethel Merman doing this number, then you might have some idea of how Louise Gold does it. She is quite simply the strongest singer currently working on the British stage, and possibly one of the greatest vocal-powerhouses there is. It has been said that decibel for decibel even Liza Minnelli would be in difficulties trying to top Kim Criswell at full stretch. Well I had heard Ms Criswell (who I actually rather like) on a number of occasions, and I think that decibel for decibel Louise Gold could give Kim Criswell a run for her money! One of the greatest joys of watching the glorious Gold perform is her stunning ability to suddenly belt something, probably when the audience isn’t expecting it.
Jumping down off the piano, Louise Gold stands on the stage, and tells us that one of the things she and her pianist, Jason Carr, share, besides an abiding love of The Muppets, is that they “are both honorary citizens of the city of Memphis Tennessee” “And very proud of it” says Jason , whereupon Louise adds “We have certificates”., and Jason adds that he keeps his in his bathroom.
Louise goes off-stage, and soon we hear her doing the Spitting Image voice of The Queen. Jason Carr strikes up a familiar tune on the piano, namely that of The British National Anthem (although American’s will recognise it as the tune to My Country Is Of Thee, and various other nations recognise it as their own National Anthem tune). Presently, perhaps rather to the surprise of some of the audience (well those who don’t know her), Spitting Image’s Leading Puppeteer, enters, wearing on her strong left-arm the puppet of The Queen. Jason gets up and comes and moves Louise’s chair, thinking it is in the wrong place. The puppeteer is not amused, but she remains in character “What are you doing?” she asks imperiously, and then commands him to “Sit down and shut up”. The doyenne of the Spitting Image puppeteers herself sits down on the chair. Back at the piano Jason begins to play the intro to her song, she misses the cue, accidentally-on-purposes, making Jason having to play part of it over again, “I just like to see him doing that” she says. At last she launched into a very Spitting Image version of Class, from the musical Chicago. She sang the song well, far better and more tunefully than various actresses (such as Ute Lemper) who have played Velma did it in the musical Chicago. In fact, as sung by Louise Gold, it sounds like a completely different song, and is a great improvement on the customary interpretations of that song. The really impressive thing, however is that she managed to sing it well and puppeteer a large puppet rather well at the same time. This is one of those moments that only Louise Gold could do in a cabaret act. It is also very fitting, especially with it being the Golden Jubilee this year, that Louise should be performing such a great piece of satire as this in her cabaret act, for a number of reasons: Firstly she comes from a family with a tradition of political satire, secondly, 25 years ago, Louise herself rather memorably appeared with The Muppets on The Silver Jubilee Royal Variety Performance. But most of all it is that fact that Louise Gold herself was Spitting Image’s original Leading Puppeteer, and in that capacity, she originally performed The Queen, she also originally voiced it (which may in part explain why I think it sounds, all be it unintentionally, rather like the a certain character in Bleak Moments). It is perhaps especially appropriate in such a place as Lauderdale House in the once non-conformist Highgate. Louise concludes the number, showing off her dexterity, by reaching over with her right hand (this is a live hands puppet) and having the puppet pull a handkerchief from its top pocket and blow its nose.
Divesting herself of the puppet, Louise Gold returns to the stage, and adds “That by the way, in case any of you didn’t recognise it, was The Queen from Spitting Image”. Then she thanks everybody, her director Nigel Plaskitt, her pianist Jason Carr, the producers Tim McArthur and Katherine Ives, and finally she adds her “congratulations to Issy”. Formalities over Louise proceeds to introduce her ‘last song’, it is a cliché, but one that “says a lot about how performers feel about their work”. At this she launches into bits of If Love Were All, with a burst of I Am What I Am in the middle of it all. These are songs that are just perfect for Louise Gold. It may be a cliché, but inhabited by such an extraordinary performer it takes on a real element of truth, and becomes a glorious monument to individuality. I do not think there has ever been a greater individual than Louise Gold to sing it. For with her amazing talents (as a singer, as an actress, and as a puppeteer) Louise Gold truly is her own special creation (or in part the product of a richly artistic progressive heritage). It is a real honour to have her share her world, and her warm funny personality with us like this. By this time the majority of the audience have been well and truly won over, and give Louise an ovation she undoubtedly deserves. Louise departs the stage, and some of the audience get up to leave too, did they realise that Louise has one more number literally up her sleeve?
Louise Gold returns to the stage, armed with Binkie, a cute little hand-and-rod puppet, it is orange with green feathers on its head and wrists. It was at this point that the show’s only real mishap occurred; perhaps it was the added encumbrance of wearing Binkie on her left arm. I think Louise was trying to leap gracefully on the piano; only somehow she missed, and ended up landing in an undignified position on the floor. Fortunately Louise was not obviously hurt (though perhaps a little shaken), and picking herself up off the floor, she was mistress of herself enough to joke about it, while moving the chair closer to the piano, so she could use it to pull herself up onto the piano, perhaps not so elegant, but safer. Thus only her dignity really suffered from the accident, and fortunately Louise Gold would not be the sort of, delightful zany anarchic, performer she is, if dignity were her racket. Once safely sitting on the piano, she says “This is for Jim and Richard” (referring to the late puppeteers Jim Henson and Richard Hunt) and then launches into Rainbow Connection. It is a truly beautiful song; one which by her wonderfully warm personality and her unique place in the history of television puppetry Louise Gold has truly earned the right to sing. Yes she sings it beautifully, about two thirds as herself and a third as Binkie, but even when singing as herself, she performs Binkie, responding to her singing. It is a truly beautiful piece of artistry to watch; Perhaps made all the more special by the fact that until almost the last moment, most of the audience had had no idea that tonight’s entertainment would be provided by a singer and actress who just happens to be one of Britain’s leading puppeteers. Unlike the two previous performances Louise gives Binkie the last note of the song. At the number’s conclusion Jason Carr came round and offered to assist Louise off the piano, but she jumped down easily by herself. The performers took their bows, with Louise bending her left wrist at the same time, so that Binkie took a, much deserved, bow too.
Tonight’s show was a little different from Louise Gold’s previous performances of her cabaret show, for a start she was appearing as a replacement for someone else, Baroness Issy Van Randwyck. This may have affected the performance, to some extent, since there did seem to be a few moments that were not quite as slick and polished as they were supposed to be. Fortunately both Louise Gold and her pianist Jason Carr are very quick witted, and unpretentious, so once they started ad-libbing round them, these very minor rough-spots (such as sitting down too soon, forgetting to remove a jacket, or possibly a missed cue) ceased to be a problem, and indeed became almost part of the act; well with one obvious exception.
Louise Gold did her best to give the audience their moneys worth, and she is the sort of performer who always gives at least one hundred and ten percent. There was also the added bonus that she is actually an excellent puppeteer. I have always thought that the thing I like best about Louise Gold is her big rich powerful glorious melodic singing voice. However, since watching her cabaret performances, I have found that I also adore watching her puppeteer a character like Binkie. The Queen is a good piece of satire, and it’s great that she does it, especially given both her position on Spitting Image, and of course The Jubilee. But Binkie, being a simpler hand-and-rod creature, is, in Louise Gold’s capable clever hands, so graceful. I am especially glad to have the honour of seeing her perform it, because, in a way, she made me realise just how beautiful, really good puppetry is to watch.
If her cabaret act really achieves something, it is that it displays the versatile multitalented Louise Gold in all her glory. She is an excellent puppeteer (with a wealth of experience), she is a fine singer, with a big brassy powerful voice, and yet one who can also sing sweetly with real sincerity. In addition she has a true gift for doing funny voices (a gift honed by her experiences as a puppeteer). And while she is absolutely no-clog-dancer (she made that quite clear in her narration), she does move about the stage very gracefully with a strong sense of rhythm. But above all I think the thing that really put her show tonight over so well, is that she has a wonderfully vibrant warm likeable personality. She comes across as a very confident artiste, but at the same time a very honest down-to-earth one. If something goes wrong, no big deal, she can adlib round it, or if it’s really impossible to do that, she’ll laugh it off. In the end she is what she is, her world is indeed not a place she has to hide in, and her performance definitely deserved an ovation. As an experienced performer in her own right Louise Gold did not exactly go out a youngster, tonight, but she certainly finished by coming back a star.