Writer: Claudia Jefferies
Reviewer: Gareth Roberts
Claudia Jeffries’ one-woman show Syd & Sylvia attempts to utilise the sleazy and misogynistic world of an ‘eighties working men’s club as an entry point from which to explore broader themes of sexism. Performed with extraordinary timing and conviction and a style that is in equal parts brooding, manic and sinister, Jeffries’ brings to bear a formidable talent. However, her material is somewhat disorganised, and too often, interesting and thought-provoking themes trail away into nothing.
The frame of the show is that of a married pair of performers, the titular Syd & Sylvia, performing their regular Saturday night cabaret act. Their interactions form the spine of the show, which also features vicious parodies of pop hits, confrontational evocations of sexual abuse and a truly bizarre sequence with a consent form. Jeffries’ plays both roles herself with considerable skill, effortlessly creating characters who are at once sympathetic and repulsive. Syd, a hideous, leering misogynist becomes a character who we can understand and, even if no person will ever like him, we can at least pity him. Similarly, Sylvia, his cabaret singer wife, trapped in a potentially abusive marriage with a man who cannot ever understand her, still borders on the grotesque. The characters are more than mere caricatures, imbued with an uncanny liveliness.
Beyond the title characters though, the show finds itself on less than certain ground. Many of the elements that are deployed inside of this framework are perhaps lacking in focus. The song parodies are certainly clever, but there are so many of them that they start to become routine. Similarly, anecdotes are introduced, tension is built effectively and events continue to their bleak conclusion yet nothing really seems to come of it. We are instantly transported back to Syd and his lecherous manner, and the piece returns to easier targets. The show is certainly effective, and more than able to make its audience think, not least because of the performers’ ability to read and manipulate the audience, yet it becomes less than it perhaps could have been. Bereft of focus, the performance is affecting and thought-provoking but ultimately unsatisfying.
Reviewed on 8th February 2018 | Image: Contributed