James Church Presents Cabaret Night

 

With Louise Gold & Jason Carr

 

Supported by: Andrea Tushingham and Ryan Stevens

 

Norden Farm Centre For The Arts, Maidenhead, Saturday 29 March 2008

 

 

Review by Emma Shane

© April 2008

 

In the poem Slough John Betjeman said of the ‘bright young city things’ “it’s not their fault they do not know the birdsong from the radio. It’s not their fault they often go, to Maidenhead”; while in the mid 1970s, when introducing a favoured architect at a meeting of The Art Workers Guild he said “I have been asked to introduce a friend who is known to us all...” He went on to say that that architect “for years has quietly and resolutely stood for what is well built, well joined together and not too noticeable”. Now I wonder what Betjeman would have made of the idea of a puppeteer, whose work is known to us all (even if she herself isn’t quite so well known), headlining in a cabaret in Maidenhead!

 

The evening starts with cabaret producer, James Church, taking his place at the piano, and introducing the supporting act of “old friends” Andrea Tushingham and Ryan Stevens, in their first cabaret appearance together. So off to a brilliant start Together Wherever We Go. A good performance of great Jule Styne tune and good Sondheim lyrics, but then it was written for Ethel Merman, and as Irving Berlin once said “If you write lyrics for Ethel they’d better be good, because if their not everyone’s going to hear them anyway.” Next up A Stud And A Babe by Roberts & DiPietro, not quite such a great song, but not bad, and enlivened with props (such as glasses held together with elastoplast). Followed by Schwartz’s In Whatever Time We Have, well performed, though I didn’t care much for the song. Much better was another Sondheim classic, Ryan singing Marry Me A Little, perfectly well. A more challenging number to do well is You’re The Top. Fortunately Andrea and Ryan have the benefit of having played Reno Sweeney and Billy Crocker in a production of Anything Goes, and therefore display a good understanding of the song. I’m very fussy about how I like to hear Cole Porter songs, especially those written for Ethel Merman (or indeed quite a number of songs originally introduced by The Mighty Merman) sung. But my opinion is that this is a perfectly acceptable performance of You’re The Top. They very sensibly stick to keeping it fairly straightforward and don’t attempt anything beyond their capabilities with it. Admittedly I’ve heard recordings I liked even more (such as the EMI Classics, and of course the JAY/TER studio cast album versions), but I’ve also heard a good number of versions of this song I didn’t like at all. I actually enjoyed Andrea and Ryan’s performance (I’d certainly rather hear someone like Andrea Tushingham do this song than say Elaine Paige). I also noticed how comical Ryan was, particularly using his hands, with the song, as a means of livening it up, this just worked. He got away with it. I didn’t realise then that he happens to have some experience of puppeteering, which might account for him getting away with that (am I reading too much into this?).  From a classic to a corny number The Song That Goes Like This, a highly amusing enjoyable take on a certain type of song in a musical, though it started to get a little tedious, but that’s probably intentional. Followed by a very interesting and innovative performance of Sondheim’s Unworthy Of Your Love. Doing Sondheim out of context can be difficult. It’s a particular problem with songs from show such as Assassins. Yet tonight Andrea Tushingham and Ryan Stevens came up with a most brilliant way to make this particular song work out of context. They turned a twin soliloquy about insane obsession into a perfectly normal passionate love duet, sung by a husband and wife to each other. Another Roberts & DiPietro song Marriage Tango, a very funny sexy number, the only problem with it, is that I’m not quite sure how to take some of the lyrics, and wondered in what era and society is the song actually set? It’s a great number, but out of context I’m not too sure where to laugh. There followed a coincidentally appropriate number, It’s A Fine Fine Line from Avenue Q, sung tonight by Andrea. The song was originally written for the great American puppeteer Stephanie D’Abruzzo to sing on Broadway. I thought it unbelievably apt that such a song should have found its way into the warm up to tonight’s show, whose Guest Star after all is to be Louise Gold, herself a Sesame Street Muppeteer. Anyway, back to the supporting act, Andrea sang the song nicely. Then back to the duets, with Ryan and Andrea somehow making the song Money Money from the film Cabaret, into a divorce number. This worked and it’s a classic song, but I kind of half wanted to hear some more Sondheim, say something from Follies or Merrily We Roll Along. As it turned out they ended their half with the latter, Old Friends, which they did well, and as with the opening number, sang Sondheim’s lyrics clearly. (rather more clearly in fact than the Leicester Haymarket cast album!)

 

 

On to the second act, the special guest star, puppeteer & actress Louise Gold. Norden Farm Centre For The Arts had billed this month’s versatile guest star brilliantly. Basically she’s a famous puppeteer and accomplished West End actress. As things turned out tonight’s show involved not one but two legendary British puppeteers, plus a fine composer, so it was a very special evening for Norden Farm. Louise’s trusty wicker props basket had been placed on the table next to the back of the upright piano. Nigel Plaskitt was sitting at the back of the stage, behind one end of the piano, with something in a black binliner bag on his lap (I could guess exactly what that was). The first act had James Chruch at the piano. Now the piano was taken by one of Mr Church’s musical heroes, influences, mentors, call him what you will, Jason Carr. And Jason got the second act off to a flying start with his own terrific composition. It may not have been quite a summer’s day turned cold and sleety, but the poor weather could  nevertheless do some brightening up, and what better song to cheer everyone up with than A Little Love. Especially as played by Jason Carr and sung by Louise Gold.  Miz Gold sweeps on stage graceful as ever, holding a wand in her left hand. She is wearing one of her standard gala costumes. I don’t recall her wearing this outfit for her cabaret act before, but she wears it a lot for galas, the black smart trouser and sleeveless top ensemble, with her semi-transparent, lace-effect black top. At least in the intimate venue of a studio theatre, we can see what the whole ensemble of that costume looks like. When she wears it in larger venues we can’t see the effect of that costume properly. Tonight there was only one little problem with it, as Louise caught the sleeve of her top on her wicker basket. Thus, she had to spend several moments disentangling her costume from her props basket. However if her costume proved one thing, it is that she doesn’t need a pink dress to make the number work, she’d make that song work anyway no matter what she’s wearing. By the same token she doesn’t need a blond wig either, her own red hair looks so wonderfully striking. Accent-wise lovely Louise sings the song just like when she first introduced in The Waterbabies. On the table was a bowl of marshmallows, which Louise proceeds to throw into the audience, presumably illustrating the lyric “I’ll dispense a smile and a sweetie”. On this occasion her aim wasn’t too good, and quite a number of these landed on the stage instead. I’m not sure, but I wonder if Louise was wrong-handing them (throwing with her right hand), if so maybe that’s why. The composer-lyricist himself sang what would have originally been the chorus parts. As well as singing Louise dances about very gracefully, with a lot of neat pas de chats (a legacy of her Arts Ed dance training). It’s a beautiful number. And one which most especially suits Louise’s lovely personality, by design it IS her line to give the world a little love.

 

Louise explains the song was written by Jason Carr, and goes on to say she’s been lucky enough to work with a number of great living composers, after telling her story about meeting the Sherman brothers, when she told them she’d grown up hearing their work, and they said it made them feel very old, she moves on to Stephen Sondheim and the four Sondheim shows she’s been in (naming all four). Mentioning that Sondheim “has written many beautiful and lyrical songs” she promptly launches into two that aren’t. An excerpt of The Gun Song, followed by The Blob. For the former, instead of a bag, this time she rummaged in her props basket (from which she produces a blue cloth, a champagne flute, a shoe, and finally the toy gun). She left the cloth and glass out, to use later. Both songs come across really well, and last notes of the gun song were a real surprise, as Louise brought forth a note so powerful you can tell why she’s been described as “An English Ethel Merman”. The Blob (for which she held the champagne flute) was taken at quite a surprisingly fast tempo. Louise is clearly on good form vocally, to be able to do that. Next a number from a show she hasn’t been in, Into The Woods. Children Will Listen as sung by Louise Gold with an arrangement by Jason Carr is an incredibly powerful number. Often when she’s done it in her cabaret Louise has taken it quietly, but tonight, sitting on the stool, she belted it, like she did in Happily Ever After. I’m glad to hear her do it that way, because she’s such a terrific skilful belter, and this suits Jason’s glorious arrangement of the song so well. While the song had come across well in Happily Ever After, it worked even better tonight, for two reasons. Firstly Jason Carr was playing it (no disrespect to Anthony Davie), but nobody can play Jason’s arrangements of either Sondheim’s music, or his own better than Jason Carr can play them. Secondly Louise’s personality and whole performance style fits into the informality of this sort of event so much better than a stuffy Sondheim Society gala. (Good though Louise Gold is at livening up stuffy galas).

                Picking up the champagne flute and cloth, Louise leans against the end of the piano nearest the audience to sing Lovers For A Day. Like the last time she did this song at Lauderdale she elects to belt the whole thing, it works better this way. But with two differences, she increased her vocal power a little more for the chorus, and while singing the chorus instead of miming she was handling her props, shining another glass – a great improvement. Louise clearly enjoys the number, and she’s making the audience enjoy it too.  This mazilk is brilliant at mixing pathos and comedy, she has such a strong instinct for what she is doing, and can change style very very quickly. In her loveable jokey manner she tells us it is with great regret when she hears a show she auditioned for and didn’t get closes. Louise and Jason launch into I Told You So, a terrifically funny Kander & Ebb number about flops. They do the schadenfraude with great panache. In the second verse Jason lists the various ways to say “I told you so” and Louise acts them out, though her efforts at putting  “a little cheer in it” are a bit peculiar (she’s done better by that line in the past), I wonder if she’s trying not to laugh or something. Kind Louise explains she only feels qualified to sing that song because of having been in two major flops herself, Bag and Ziegfeld. In fact, although it wasn’t mentioned (after all this is very much Louise’s show), Jason too has been involved with flops, he wrote the score for the musical play Eurovision (which probably should have stayed on the fringe, as Nicholas De Jongh so rightly commented). Louise describes Bag as a flop she’s actually proud to have been part of, because of it getting into Trivial Pursuit and The Guinness Book Of Records. While telling the story of the cast going for a Chinese meal, she adds “it was a very nice Chinese meal”. Onto Ziegfeld, Louise gets a little carried away with her conversation, she nearly says they had “four leading men”, hastily corrects herself to “three leading men, four directors”, and then slips up again with “three opening nights, and on both of them we got the most dreadful reviews”. (She obviously meant to say two opening nights). Louise and Jason act out a scene from Ziegfeld, where Louise as the secretary reads out a selection of reviews, from which her boss has to find glittering quotes. It’s a very funny sketch, improved since their last performance of it, what with an extra introductory line or two from Louise, and Jason holding an unlit cigar prop. Louise proceeds to sing Mon Homme. Her vocals are delightful, and when she got one word wrong in the lyric “You’ll never understand” instead of “He’ll never understand”, it was such a minor slip up that very few people would have noticed (only if you are very familiar with the lyric). The song makes fine use of her beautiful powerful voice. And then a change of style. She tells us that since then she’s been in a hit. With a laugh adds that most recently she was Mary Poppins and before that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but the hit she enjoyed most was Mamma Mia, the two years she played Tanya in it. She goes on to say she wanted to do a number from it, but that’s difficult with a piano, she continues to explain if you take away the pop arrangements you can hear the lyrics. I am glad to see her put that comment back in. So it’s onto to Louise and Jason presenting their unplugged version of Dancing Queen. Jason on the piano, Louise sings the verse and then picks up her recorder for the chorus. Compared to the last time she did this at Lauderdale, Louise makes a much better job of it tonight, managing not to let any giggles get the better of her, until the very last note that went a little wrong. She controlled herself perfectly until that last note, and looked embarrassed as the audience applauded. I can understand why she didn’t feel her performance deserved applause last time at Lauderdale. But this time, she so nearly succeeded, the applause was deserved. She attempted to hide her embarrassment with humour, saying that her music teacher would not have approved of her performance. Louise’s dialogue slips up again, she says that Mamma Mia “is still playing to packed houses at The Prince Edward Theatre”. In fact the show transferred to The Prince Of Wales Theatre a few years ago, clearly a slip of the tongue, since until a few months ago Louise herself was appearing Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre. Moving on Louise mentions that Mamma Mia isn’t just a hit in London, and then brings in a great topical joke “As a bank closes in America, somewhere in the world a production of Mamma Mia opens”; They’ve decided to celebrate the Japanese production, by getting the audience to do a sing-along of Dancing Queen in Japanese. She goes over to the theatre’s curtains and gets out the board with the lyrics written out. She does a fine job pretending to be surprised at the audience needing to use the phonetic version. It’s good, because everyone realises she’s joking with us, but its very affectionate joking. Sing-a-long over, Louise and Jason compliment the audience by saying it was “much better than the audience at Jermyn Street” (referring to the longer version of Louise’s cabaret act, they did there in December 2002). Louise goes to put the board away, with some difficultly, and suddenly realises “I don’t need to hide it, because you’ve all seen it”.

 

Putting the board down, a complete change of tone, she stands in the middle of the stage, surveys the audience, and says that when she was twenty her agent sent her for an audition which “I didn’t know it then was going to change my life”. From the tone of her voice you just know that although the line could be a cliché, this living legend is totally serious. She continues “The leading lady was a pig”, quite a number of the audience got the joke and laughed, then “The leading man was a frog”, at this point everyone got it and laughed. She went on “And the comedian was a bear”. At which Jason declared “No he’s a not, he’s wearing a neckatie”. Did Jason come in too soon with the line? I wasn’t sure. I preferred it when Louise joined in with that joke (and used her hands to imitate Fozzie’s wiggling ears). Actually I preferred some of her earlier versions of this intro, like the one including the chorus or vegetables. This time, however, Louise turns to the audience and (with remarkable similarity to Spitting Image’s Queen) says “You see why Jason doesn’t say much in this act.” I’m not quite sure why her attempts to pretend to slag off her pianist, result in Louise addressing the audience with a burst of pantomime “Oh yes he is”, and we all had to say “Oh no he isn’t”. Like her Mamma Mia colleague Louise Plowright, the one major problem Louise Gold has with this sort of panto-banter is that actually the audience admires her performance far too much to even begin to cross her. Fortunately in Louise Gold’s favour are two points, firstly we also like Jason Carr, and so can sort of want to partly take his side, and secondly it is kind of obvious that Louise expects the audience to behave in the traditional panto-banter manner. And what Louise Gold expects from an audience, she will jolly well get. (Not for nothing is she the daughter of a stalwart Left-wing amateur revue writer). Louise goes on to mention some of The Muppet Show guest stars she got to meet and work with, such as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, and Liza Minnelli. (for some strange reason she also mentioned Ethel Merman –whom she met on a Royal Variety but not on TMS). With that introduction Louise Gold launches into one of the unique highlights of her cabaret act, a medley of songs from The Muppet Show sung by one of the greatest musical assets to grace The Muppet Show’s team of muppeteers. She starts her medley with a Sherman Brothers’ song It’s A Small World. A number so true, and such a reminder of how a performer’s career can come almost full circle. Next, for Girlfriend Of The Whirling Dervish Louise launches into her first major Muppet role, one of her fabled monster imitations, yes the infamous Big Mamma, which she still does brilliantly. As the theatre lights here are bright, and the audience in several long rows with no aisles, Louise can’t move amongst us, and having no need for her cordless spotlight, doesn’t use it. She does however make much more use of her graceful tappy turns about the stage. I found myself half wishing she were wearing tap shoes, because it could have given that number something extra (which in the absence of her cordless spotlight might have benefited it). Louise darts over to the curtaining by the back of the stage for the next segment, Hawaiian War Chant, in the voice of her best known Muppet character, Annie Sue Pig. Actually this sounded a bit strange, it was rather emotional and not quite on accent. She sang it well, but it sounded like she was crying. I found it a mournful performance of what is usually a funny number, and I really wasn’t sure why she did it quite that way (I couldn’t tell if she was upset, or trying not to laugh, or what). Fortunately the last part of the medley, Tico Tico Louise performed all for laughs. Jason (presumably with Louise’s agreement) played it a touch too fast for Louise’s voice. She’s not a good fast tempo singer. But instead of trying and struggling, Louise did it deliberately not quite perfect. A classic Muppet Show style performance, that is utterly gorgeous. Extremely good Muppet fun, performed by a lady who truly has earned the right to do that wonderful medley. Throughout it Louise makes great use of her big por de bras, was I reading too much into it, or was it a kind of reminder, that she had originally performed all these songs on television through her clever hands. Centre stage, with her luscious mane of chestnut curls falling about her shoulders, in a very Muppet-like way, her big wide warm smile, and cheerful sparkling brown eyes, I couldn’t help thinking that if someone who only knew Louise Gold from her appearance on the documentary Of Muppets And Men, when she was about half the age she is now, had seen her on stage tonight they would have instantly recognised her as the lady whom Jim Henson introduced in that documentary as “Our English puppeteer”.

 

From one famous television puppet show, to another. While we applauded the legendary “English Muppet”’s medley from that programme, there’s a deft movement from Nigel sitting at the back of the stage behind the other end of the piano, Louise exclaimed “Oh my Gawd”, and we see Nigel standing there holding the Spitting Image puppet of The Queen by the top of the piano. Jason struck up The National Anthem (which no one stood up for). Louise quickly walks over, picks up a piece of paper from the table, crouches down close to Nigel, and begins to read aloud in her voice for The Queen, while Nigel puppeteers it. She welcomed us, and apologised for not being better dressed “But we came via Terminal 5” (thus implying a lack of luggage. She went on to joke about having the French President Sarkozy to stay. It’s incredibly topical (T5 only opened in chaos a couple of days earlier). I can’t remember exactly how she introduced her song (was it state of the nation address or whatever), I was paying more attention to Nigel’s puppetry than what Louise was actually saying. Louise sang the number, Class jolly well, I am glad to hear her back to singing it rather than doing it recitative (which I felt hadn’t worked so well last time at Lauderdale). Of course this performance is a bit different, because Louise is only voicing the puppet. Nigel Plaskitt is puppeteering. And Nigel’s puppeteering style, while excellent, is quite different to Louise’s (for example in the days when TV Puppeteers had to share monitors, I am quite sure those two would never have agreed to share a monitor), although of course they are clearly good friends and long standing colleagues, who have worked together for years, particularly of course on Spitting Image, where they were both major puppeteers. It is also a little strange seeing The Queen performed right-handed, when in recent years we have been accustomed to her being puppeteered left-handed. In many ways tonight’s performance of The Queen, was a live illustration of the situation that sometimes arose on those big TV puppet shows where one puppeteer would loop a voce for their regular character which someone else had performed, for whatever reason (be it: Louise Gold performing a Viking Pig which Jerry Nelson voiced on The Muppet Show, or Mike Quinn puppeteering Hortense on Secret Life Of Toys while Louise Gold who voiced it puppeteered Raisin, or Steve Whitmire puppeteering Red Fraggle on Fraggle Rock when Karen Prell was off sick; or Frank Oz puppeteering an inexperienced performer’s new major character in a complex musical number on The Muppet Show because that character’s own puppeteer was, at that time too inexperienced to do it in so complex a number). At the conclusion of Class, Louise rises and gets Nigel Plaskitt to come to the centre of the stage and take a bow with her. It’s quite something to see both of Spitting Image’s Leading Puppeteers together on stage taking a bow. Nigel goes off stage, and Louise says of The Queen puppet “I used to perform it myself, but I got a bit grand”. Even when she is commanding the stage in her cabaret act, Louise comes across as a very pleasant person, who doesn’t throw her weight about that much, so her statement about having “got too grand” isn’t entirely convincing, in so far as to anyone who is familiar with her performances, it sounds like she’s joking.

 

Moving on Louise does her the thank yous, to James Church and everyone at Norden Farm Centre for inviting her. To Nigel Plaskitt for directing her show (and puppeteering The Queen), to Jason Carr for accompanying, and to Matt the lighting and sound man, half joking she said “I didn’t rustle too much”, at that moment I realised she was wearing a radio mike. Matt must indeed have done a good job with the sound balance to have made that so unobvious. Louise also felt obliged to apologise to the cleaning staff for having got squashed marshmallows on the stage. In fact with that apology she comes across as very serious and sincere, she really was concerned about them not thinking badly of her over that. For her final number Louise did So Long Dearie, one of her big belting tour de forces. I kind of wished she had done If Love Were All / I Am What I Am because she puts so much of herself into that medley. However, she’s a fine actress, So Long Dearie is a great belt number; and when Louise is on top singing form, as she clearly is to night, it makes sense to get the best out of her Mermanesque vibrato. Finale over, Louise Gold departs the stage to thundering applause.

 

And then a delightful surprise. Jason carries on playing, and after a few moments Louise appears for an encore. I was worried Louise might be “Too Grand” to do the beautiful lyrical Rainbow Connection. I am so glad to see her take her place on the stool, with lovely Binky (the very cute Muppet-like hand-and-rod puppet) on her left hand. She handles both the song and her puppet with her beautiful fluid artistry. She is an amazing singer-actress, with a terrific personality. But she is also a legendary puppeteer, and when she’s got a puppet as cute as Binky on her hand you can really see it in her performance. The song is such a magical one too, which she handles with perfection. I wouldn’t like to hear just anyone sing that song, it needs a performer who can do it with true lyrical sensitivity, and Louise Gold is one such performer.

 

All in all Louise Gold once again proves herself as a first rate cabaret artiste. A splendid performer, and a really nice person. Jason Carr’s wonderful song A Little Love makes a perfect signature piece for her, so does it embrace her cuddly-glamorous personality. Or at least she’s glamorous in terms of her big voice, stage presence, and extraordinary career. But she’s not really a diva, despite the monstrous characters she plays as an actress, she’s far too nice for that.

Tonight’s performance compares very well to previous times. In some places it is an improvement on some of her previous performances. For example tonight she is clearly in excellent voice. Make great use of her wonderful brassy pipes, that is so thrilling. The radio-miking was not obtrusive, and if it was good enough for Ethel Merman to use in a one woman show (as Ethel once infamously did), then it’s good enough for any great performer. Sometimes I’ve seen Louise perform when she’s appeared a little tired. She’s such a consummate professional that mostly she can hide tiredness, though little things, like her poor diction and increased tendency to corpse at totally inopportune moments give her away. Tonight her diction was really excellent, and her corpseing, well she’s a bit of giggle box, but I’ve seen a lot worse, from her. Costume wise she has varied things a bit. But the most striking thing about her appearance is her lovely hairstyle, which really suits her. The more she does her cabaret act the better her linking dialogue gets, as she figures out which lines work well and which don’t. Being such a unique individual even with Nigel directing it takes some trial and error. Tonight her dialogue generally flowed smoothly. The major part of her performance is of course her wonderful singing. Her opening number A Little Love is just a wonderful song, played perfectly, with a great arrangement, which is presumably exactly the way it’s composer wants it arranged, and one can’t say that, with such certainty, about any other song in the show. Children Will Listen was one of the best performances of that song she’s ever done; while Lovers For A Day was improved by the props. Dancing Queen was better than when she did it at Lauderdale in 2005, but Louise’s performance of it was not quite as good as good as when she did it at Jermyn Street in 2002, however it was only the very last note that didn’t quite work. The rest of the number was totally fine. I told You So was as brilliantly funny as ever. Around The World With The Muppets medley was generally good, as it always is, though Hawaiian War Chant was a little off. However, Tico Tico worked the best it’s ever done. Of all the pieces Class and the introduction to it were the most different. Partly because of it being wittily updated (it always needs updating to keep it topical), and largely of course because it was staging was quite different to any previous performance.  Cabaret performances are not like any other scripted stage show. They are the responsibility of their performers, who are basically being themselves. So it’s important that the cabaret performers themselves, on any given day, week, month or year are comfortable with their act. At a point in time there may be things they don’t feel happy about doing in their act on that occasion. In which case they must be able to make changes (temporary or otherwise) to keep their act such that they remain comfortable with it. For example they may need to change the key or tempo of a song, or replace one song with another, alter a lyric (because they’re not happy doing that lyric in front of a particular audience), tone down the choreography (perhaps it’s too energetic or doesn’t suit a particular venue), or drop a difficult costume change. If such a change is made it may not necessarily be an improvement, but it needs to be a good enough change to make the show work, so that the cabaret artiste continues to be comfortable with their performance. Although there are a number of actors who puppeteer, and quite a lot of puppeteers who do a bit of acting, Louise Gold is unusual in being so accomplished in both areas. It has also been said that of the puppeteers who are also voice-artistes or voice-artistes who are also puppeteers, that they are usually better at one or the other. Yet when Louise has done The Queen she has come across as a great puppeteer who is also a good voice-artiste; for that reason in particular, and also because it is a character which Louise originated on Spitting Image as both a voice-artiste and puppeteer it’s been particularly special when Louise has done it live on stage. But only if she’s happy about doing it. If at a given performance of her act, she’s not comfortable with it, then to have Nigel Plaskitt puppeteer it, as he did tonight, is a very good solution. After all Nigel is a pretty legendary puppeteer in his own right too. In fact if one was to highlight the greatest British puppeteers of the 1980s, Louise would surely come top, with Nigel a close second. And it was really quite something to see Spitting Image’s two Leading Puppeteers together on stage like that.

                Louise Gold’s cabaret act, however, is very much a showcase of her talents. Nigel Plaskitt and Jason Carr are an integral part of it, but in the end it’s her show. In an era when so called popular entertainment has become preoccupied with game shows and reality programme and people who are famous merely for being famous, it is truly wonderful to see a performer who in her own way has for years quietly and resolutely stood for good quality artistic entertainment using genuine talent and effort, and in fact not too noticeable. Akin to Betjeman’s architect friend, well given her artistic heritage, perhaps. Yes Louise Gold is one of the most vivacious and loudest singers to grace show business. As Jim Henson once so understatedly said “Louise has this great singing voice”, tonight that was much in evidence. It’s wonderful to hear live the true tour de force that is her glorious voice. These days even in the big musicals she performs in she has all too few opportunities to really display her full wide-ranging magnificent vocal talents. By quietly I’m referring to her natural modesty and the under-recognised nature of her work, a performer who gets on with the job often with little of the glory, despite being a key performer on several major television programmes.

 

All too often puppeteers, literally out of sight under the set, seem to be somewhat overlooked performers. Yet tonight’s cabaret by coincidence had a surprising number of puppetry connections. The warm up act included Ryan Stevens, who according to his resume has also done a bit of puppeteering (perhaps not quite in the league of the true greats, but interesting to note). Then there was the complete coincidence that Andrea Tushingham sang It’s A Fine Fine Line, a song from the puppet stage musical Avenue Q. But the piste de resistance is Louise Gold’s cabaret act, directed by Nigel Plaskitt, who tonight also came to the fore as a strong puppeteer, handling a hefty latex puppet. Louise and Nigel are after all two of the greatest film and TV puppeteers in this country, so it was quite something to have them both performing live. Then there was Louise singing songs from The Muppet Show, But to round it off perfectly, it loveliest moment in this somewhat puppet-orientated evening, just has to be Louise singing and puppeteering Rainbow Connection; a song which surely does sew a little love, when performed so delightfully. Short and swift it really is Louise Gold’s gift to give the world a little love. Aided and abetted of course by her show’s pianist the genius composer-lyricist Jason Carr, who knows just how to arrange and indeed design the perfect number for Louise’s talent and personality. All in all what an absolutely lovely way to spend an evening. It was a triumph for James Church and all the performers involved.

 

 

 

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