Director: Lee Blakeley
Musical Director &Pianist: James Holmes
Reviewer: Sally Cinnamon
Having first seen Jessica Walker perform at The Lowry earlier this year in The Girl I Left Behind Me, I had an inkling of what I should expect with tonight’s Opera North and Exchange offering, Pat Kirkwood is Angry. Kirkwood is played by Walker who, on leading us through Kirkwood’s life, underpins the whole story with the songs which brought her fame and fortune.
Patricia Kirkwood, born in Salford in 1921, had all the ingredients of a superstar; beauty, vim, great legs, amazing singing voice and the obligatory pushy, showbiz mother. She was courted by Hollywood, signing to MGM in 1944, written for by Noël Coward and was dubbed, ‘Britain’s first wartime star.’ So why isn’t she famous? Well, a chance meeting with HRH Duke of Edinburgh which led to a scandal in the papers and followed her around for the rest of her life and a stint in a sanatorium while under contract with MGM both had long-lasting effects on her career.
Scandal and mental illness were not things the general public or the money-men wanted wafting under their noses. They wanted their stars squeaky-clean. Kirkwood was tainted and that was that.
Walker’s concise storytelling is funny, engaging and witty. There are many light moments in the production and one gets the feeling Kirkwood’s own autobiography is littered with the same acerbic bite. Accompaniment provided by James Holmes is a wonderful addition with the pianist providing his own comic moments. The stripped down nature of the production – bare stage, a piano, a microphone only highlights the mesmeric talent Kirkwood must have had to occupy an audience during the war as the bombs were falling. Walker, herself, doesn’t do half a bad job either.
The clarity of the piece is all the more moving as it begins to unfold that Pat Kirkwood is, indeed, angry. Her life did not turn out the way it should. Her trajectory to superstardom hit obstacle after obstacle and although it’s clear she was not the easiest person to work with, she was probably one of the most interesting.