Miriam Margolyes is so English she’s in the Harry Potter films, and yet she recently became an Australian citizen and spends much of her time here. She’s become something of an adopted national treasure, her disarming honesty and lack of pretension perfectly in tune with the Australian character.
Where she differs, refreshingly, is in her lack of humility. One of the funniest anecdotes she tells us in her warm and winning autobiographical show involves her meeting with the Queen. When asked by Her Maj what she did for a living, Margolyes answered, “I am the best storyteller in the world”. In response, the Queen rolled her eyes, but we might be tempted to believe this claim, given the narrative skills on display here.
Anyone who was lucky enough to see Margolyes’ extraordinary Dickens' Women will know what to expect here. In fact, many of the highlights are mere reiterations from that previous show. The unforgettable Miss Flite from Dickens’ Bleak House is repeated, as is the virtuosic scene between Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney from Oliver Twist – although they’re so good it would be churlish to complain. Some additions seem superfluous, like the ending of A Christmas Carol. Some don’t work at all, in particular the extract from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which simply won’t bend itself to a solo performance. Conversely, some choices are truly inspired.
We'd have loved to hear more of her Juilet, although her nurse is a perfect counterpoint. The ode to death from Clive James is stunning, as is the booming, rhythmic thunder of Belloc’s Tarantella. Her effortless embodiment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is consummate.
But what really makes this show are the personal anecdotes: her mother’s stroke and debilitation; her grandfather’s efforts to save his son from the certain death of conscription; her own tale of performing in front of thousands of naked lesbians. They are compelling, and telling, and authentic. The performance is dazzling, and the production wisely gets out of its way. The set [Matthew Aberline] and costume [Marion Boyce] are elegant and comely, and the accompaniment on piano from John Martin, who also arranges the music, is often lovely. Some interludes are unnecessary, though. The musical transposition of pieces by Henry Lawson and Eric Bogle comes across as cloying, and the music hall numbers seem like padding, even if that one line from Daisy Bell has a beautifully poignant pay-off. Anyone who hasn’t seen Margolyes on stage before should take the opportunity to do so now. She’s the kind of subversive presence that is so direct and true that her wickedness comes across as mere cheekiness. She tells a dirty joke like no one can, shocking and reassuring simultaneously. The Queen may not have seen it, but she’s the perfect raconteur, and well worth two hours of anyone’s time.
Posted : 20th March 2015