REVIEW: Cautionary Tales for Daughters (Jermyn Street Theatre) ★★★★

Presented by Tanya Holt and pianist Birgitta Kenyon (aka A Girl Called Fred) this song cycle is meant as advice and warning from mothers to their daughters. The show began as a personal project for Holt’s daughter Dotty, who is now 11 years old, and has evolved into a 90-minute cabaret with ideas and suggestions gathered in more than 200 conversations.

Tanya Holt is an engaging performer who has a great rapport with the audience, whom she involves from the start – several people in the front row were asked to use small fans to create a storm because the show had a rather limited budget. Later some lucky audience members are invited to share a bottle of wine.

Singer and writer Tanya Holt deftly delivers the satire, with Birgitta Kenyon joining in some of the numbers. Imaginative video animation is used to illustrate the songs with cartoons and images from fairy tale pictures books. The stories start off in a funny and not too serious tone such as the song about the girl who wants to be a cowboy instead of a princess or the father who, overly protective of his daughter, asks himself: “What would Wolverine do?” However, as the evening goes on, the themes get darker. Cherry the Amazing YoYo Girl deals with an obsessive dieter; Chanel The Labelled Girl is so obsessed with designer clothes that she steals them to own them, which eventually leads to her downfall. Arabella Dair discovers that sharing embarrassing news and revealing photographs on the internet might not exactly boost her career. Some of the topics seem a bit dated but Holt also discusses serious and still very relevant issues such as sexual harassment and abusive relationships. The audience get the chance to anonymously contribute their own words of caution as cards are handed out during the interval.

Best described as a fusion between stand-up and cabaret, the show is aptly directed by co-writer Robin Kingsland and beautifully illustrated by the creative video projections. Tanya Holt plays a variety of characters, some with very different accents, and performs rapid costume changes with great skill. Birgitta Kenyon provides splendid support on the piano.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Scott Wishart

Cautionary Tales for Daughters is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 11 February 2017