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The Great Little Tilley
Verdict: Music-hall romp
Tour: North Yorkshire, 22-27 Nov 04. Devon, 3-5 Feb 05. Kent, 3-5 Mar 05. Northants, 9-11 Mar 05
'Is it a dainty flitting butterfly you are looking at, or an affected fop? - Perhaps seen from this distance they are in fact the same'. Louise Barrett, Tamsin Randall, Laura Tomkins present the life and times of Vesta Tilley.
Vesta Tilley was a male impersonator, a somewhat shocking but very attractive addition to Victorian music hall. The mixture of contemporary dance, narration, mime and music-hall songs works well. A simple set of three chairs and a folding screen become the formal and informal locations of Miss Tilley’s life: her home, and theatre - both front and backstage.
The audience is drawn in to the story of John Hetherington and the top hat - narrated with ironic dance and mime.
Music interacts dynamically with performance - producing a perfect match. Composer Andy Haines must be congratulated for producing a score that's modern and innovative, yet reflects and enhances so well the action on stage.
Two of the performers appear in male dress, and Tilley in a slip. This evokes the curious mixed-signals that a male impersonator would send in Victorian times. All three frequently change roles, presenting different aspects of Tilley’s character and those around her. This mixing borders on farce in the song ‘Burlington Bertie’, when Tamsin Randall and Laura Tomkins's characters argue over possession of a walking-cane and the right to perform the song.
It is not long before Tilley is the complete male impersonator. Along the way are some very (very) old music-hall jokes; songs such as ‘Don’t Dilly-Dally’, and ‘Hello, Hello, Who’s Your Lady-Friend?’; and a cheeky dance that mixes modern urban beats with the assumed masculinity of the cross-dressing artiste.
There are glimpses of Tilley throughout her life on stage, until her marriage and retirement in 1920.
The mixture of well-staged choreography, drama, song and music-track celebrates the life and times of Vesta Tilley. A powerful woman - and a powerful man.
Cast Credits: (alpha order): Louise Barrett, Tamsin Randall, Laura Tomkins.
Company Credits: Choreographer/Writer/Director - Louise Barrett. Composer - Andy Haines. Technical Operator - Peter Spurr. Costume Design - Julie Read, Wendy Cornish. Set Design - Julie Read, Pete Bartle. Company - Pretty Good Girl Dance Theatre. Supported by the Arts Council of England.
(c) Peter Andrews 2004
Reviewed Saturday 20 November 04/ Masonic Hall, Crook
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