Performers: Natasha Barnes and Vikki Stone
If this becomes the new normal, then things may not be too bad at all. Drinking a G&T in the shady courtyard of a Gothic extravaganza on one of the hottest evenings of the year is no hardship, especially when there’s first class entertainment at hand too. Based in Wandsworth’s Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, The New Normal Festival may be a drag to get to, but if all the shows are as good as Funny Gals, the journey will be worthwhile.
The towers and spires of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, initially an orphanage for girls in the Victoria era, make for a foreboding presence as you approach, but once inside, after a temperature check, the venue is comfortable and welcoming. With food and drink available in the courtyard most people only wore facemasks when they moved around; otherwise people remained in their seats, haphazardly arranged around the small stage in the corner.
This stage is plenty big enough for Natasha Barnes and Vikki Stone, the Funny Gals, who sing the history of funny female musical stars, starting with Ethel Merman and ending with songs from the present era. For a show that only lasts an hour, this history is a fast one, but there are plenty of comical songs to keep the audience laughing.
Both have sensational voices, but if there was a battle of the lungs Barnes would win, and she shows off her vocal talents to wonderful effect in Funny Girl’s I’m The Greatest Star and Spamalot’s What Happened To My Part. Her range is extraordinary and it seems incredible that she is not the leading lady in one of the shows featured in her routine.
Stone has a good voice too, but she is more mischievous, putting on funny voices and finding the humour in every line. Her rendition of Macaroons from Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques is one of the highlights of the evening, and a reminder of how much we miss the late comedian. It is also telling that Wood is only one of a stark few female composers who have had their musicals produced on Broadway or in the West End.
The duo’s song selection is very varied and there is only a glimpse of the Dark Lord, Andrew Lloyd Webber, as, although he wrote plenty of songs for women, not one of them was funny. They finish with two songs written by Stone, from her musical #ZoologicalSociety. The first is about a pregnant penguin and while it may produce a few laughs, the tune is so mournful Stone might want to rework it into a tear-jerking ballad.
The hour is over too quickly, especially with it being so long that we last saw live performance. In the same way Stone and Barnes seem similarly relieved to be back in front of a live audience. Let’s hope the weather holds right up until Christmas if outdoor shows like this are to be the new normal.
The New Normal Festival runs until 31 August 2020