L-R-Harry-McLeod-undertakers-assistant-Jeremy-Gagan-Bert-Ambrose-Michael-Scott-Wiseman-Undertakers-Assistant-photo-Oliver-KratzIn the heart of The White Bear Theatre in Kennington comes a two act musical based on two different stories. The first act- ‘I Play For Me’ is based on the fictional story of 1960’s musician Elliot Figueroa whose temperamental side comes hand in hand with his raw talent. When Elliot clashes with his manager Bert Ambrose, he realises that life in the music industry comes at a heavy cost and needs to decide if he wants in or out. ‘I Play For Me’ accompanies original 2012 Camden Fringe production ‘Kathy Kirby: Icon’ for act two. Kathy was known for her talent, beauty, and her charisma… so when she retired at the height of her career success, her life began to spiral downwards and society was left wondering…what ever happened to Kathy Kirby?

Eddie Mann plays sarcastic and complacent Elliot in the world premiere of ‘I Play For Me’, we can see from the performance that not only is Eddie a talented actor but also a very talented musician, his voice complimented the part and the rock and roll songs featured in the performance. Throughout the piece the band are always on stage with the actors, and unfortunately lack energy during moments when we are supposed to believe we are at rock gigs of Elliot’s…this takes away the concert vibe that the audience are meant to feel a part of. In fact, the most intimate song of the play was the final acoustic piece “I Play For Me” by the playwright David Cantor and James Cleeve. During a lot of the scenes the audience in the seats on the right of the theatre weren’t included for parts of the story because the direction meant the actors only performed to the front and didn’t open up to either side. Harry McLeod gives an excellent performance as troubled teenager Billy Boy, his portrayal of a distressed and confused eighteen year old steals the show for himself and we are left wanting to know more about his character.

Act two, what the audience had been waiting for; ‘Kathy Kirby: Icon’ begins the night of the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest when Kathy was at the highest point in her career winning second place with hit single “I Belong”. Maggie Lynne’s sweet voice and warm presence fills the room with her portrayal of a young Kathy. It would have been nice for the songs to have been adapted more for the piece to show off more of Maggie’s vocal range and give the songs more diversity. Tina Jones as older Kathy has great comedic timing as well as a knack for tugging at the heart strings in the sadder moments of the production. Jeremy Gagan plays Bert Ambrose, the man who stole Kathy’s heart and gambled away her fortune, unfortunately the relationship between younger Kathy and Ambrose seemed unconvincing on stage through a severe lack of chemistry between the pair. The piece doesn’t need or have much set as there are only a few main characters in a small venue, this allows us to settle into the story more. At one point, Ambrose is wheeled out onto stage in a standing coffin which is of course very funny to watch, especially when his corpse comes dancing back to life in “Waiting For The Robert E Lee”…. However this does lose its value after a short while when what we see are tender moments are made somewhat comical.

Overall ‘Kathy Kirby: Icon’ and ‘I Play For Me’ both have the potential to be excellent, if the pieces were perhaps longer and individual shows then we as an audience could invest more into the drama that unfolds. There were some very strong performances; and ‘Kathy Kirby: Icon’ failed to fall flat with energy, however the direction of both pieces seemed to just miss rather than hit.

Reviewed by Ellie Devonshire
Photo: Oliver Kratz