Celia Imrie

Laughing Matters

St. James Studio
London, UK
Celia Imrie is probably best known in America for her film roles in productions like Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), Calendar Girls (2003), Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012). An accomplished British film, TV and stage actress and comedienne, Imrie has now turned her considerable talents to cabaret.

She presented a slick, well-rehearsed, entertaining evening of comedic (mostly) musical vignettes. She played to her strengths: for instance, offering crisp flawless diction at breakneck speed in several abundantly wordy patter songs in lieu of singerly vocal prowess. In addition, she has a keen sense of rhythm and tonality, aptly opening with Annie Ross/Wardell Gray’s jazz vocalese “Twisted.”

As a whole, however, it was a bit mystifying as to what was the intended point of the show. What was she trying to say? Laughing Matters? Why? Or what?  Early on, there was mention of the material being somewhat autobiographical of her professional performing career, but, aside from a couple of what seemed like unrelated stories, there appeared to be little of the real Imrie on offer. Disappointing really, because one senses there is so much more to her as person than what was shown. Even a ballad that started as a potentially candid emotional moment was hijacked by a “comedic” sight gag. The only truly revealing moment in the show was when her back-up dancers went topless (wink).

Cabaret requires a connection with the audience.  The benefit of performing in a smaller room in the close proximity to the audience is that it provides physical nearness and, subsequently, ample opportunity for an intimate connection to be established between performer and audience. This show felt more presentational than conversational, as if intended for theater (or perhaps a TV studio audience).  The 10 or so knowing winks didn’t feel like inclusion, but more like an excuse for doing something naughty (like when people put on hazard lights because they’ve illegally parked while dropping off the dry cleaning).

The show packs an impressive list of theatrical collaborators (directed by Fidelis Morgan, choreographed by Steven Harris, Nick Finlow, the musical director of The Book of Mormon, on piano), but perhaps what was needed was some involvement and insight from creative professionals experienced with this specific genre. 

The show consists of two relatively short sets. Should Imrie choose to be truly brave and daring, she could add more revealing patter, providing the needed connective tissue to flesh out her cabaret self (persona). Yes, it is brave to do a cabaret show in the first place. But, with a bit more courage to actually expose something genuine about herself, this show could be truly magnificent. As it stands, it is a nice piece of entertainment, which could have been performed by virtually any skilled professional. Be brave, Celia: go just that bit further. We’re waiting to meet you.

Mychelle Colleary
Cabaret Scenes
August 13, 2014
www.cabaretscenes.org