REVIEW: COQ-TAILS AND CONVERSATION (Natasha Barnes and Ria Jones) ★★★★


Live at Zedel commenced its relaunch earlier this month, providing a programme which branches towards many art forms, from theatre and music to comedy and literary. It truly has some sort of event to suit all ages, tastes and budgets and it’s a venue I will now pay formidable interest to.

One of the highlights of the programme and a regular fixture are Coq-tails and Conversations, with Mark Shenton interviewing a variety of guests from stage and screen to discuss their careers and their main production highlights, as well as some stories ‘behind the curtain’ as they say. The first session was with Shoshana Bean, and upcoming guests include the likes of Anne Reid.

This session with Natasha Barnes and Ria Jones was not only an understudy special in a sense, but also highlighted how similar their experiences were when discussing their latest roles understudying such acclaimed modern performing icons.

Barnes replacing for Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl and Jones for Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard this year was no easy task for both. Not only were their roles as Fanny Brice and Norma Desmond respectively some of the most iconic female musical theatre roles, but the task to do them justice among the likes of Sheridan and Glenn made this all the more difficult, as discussed with Shenton. The matter of facing a general public who, a lot of them, paying money to see the poster girls was another matter and dealing with, at times, such negative reactions. Both suggested how whilst the pressure might have been overwhelming at times, the task to prove themselves to be as good as these headliners was what drove them to perform to such critical acclaim.

They also discussed how whilst at first they realised the opportunity to perform as the lead role of their respective productions might seem narrow, the chance to watch these award-winning performers rehearse and see their methods in working was what attracted them to take the second seat. There was also a lovely moment in which both actresses said how being just around the corner from each other in their theatres and seeing how the media reacted to their performances made them will each other on to give their best performances, which was followed by a huge embrace.

After discussing their upcoming roles, with Barnes performing as Cinderella at the Palladium and Jones in 42nd Street in Paris, a performance from each followed. Barnes chose to sing the somewhat predictable song choice of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ but having never seen her live before and in more of an intimate space this proved to be a treat. Jones, however, singing Garland’s ‘The Man That Got Away’ was stellar with such broad projection and vibrato and reminding us how with age does your voice constantly soar to new gravitas.

Coq-tails and Conversations is a great idea to set you in theatrical mode pre-show or for a Friday night coq-tail whilst hearing the tales from some household names in theatre. This session, in particular, showed despite differences in experience both on stage and in life how earlier this year we saw a rare collision to see one performer make her starring comeback and another to be termed as, ‘a star is born’.

Reviewed by Jack Grey