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The Girl I Left Behind Me – The Lowry, Salford

Director: Neil Bartlett

Reviewer: Sally Cinnamon

[Rating:4]

Performer Jessica Walker and Director Neil Bartlett, alongside MD and accompanist, James Holmes has created a time machine. It’s true! The Girl I left Behind Me transports the audience to the late 1860’s when theatres were lit by gas, where ladies wore bonnets and men wore britches, through to the 1970’s and to a holiday camp in Morecambe Bay.

Here, among the din of an audience who may come and go as they please stood a variety act whose affect is still very much felt today – the cross-dressing female performer. I say performer rather than singer as these fabulous women had to have it all.

Indeed, Walker herself does as she laments about Annie Hindle, Ella Wesner, Hettie King and Vesta Tilly – names that don’t mean much today but at their height of popularity were as big as Lady Gaga. It’s a rather intriguing show – part history lesson, part cabaret, all entertaining. The simple costume and props and with the help of a grand piano, the one Act show speeds by. The audience laughs, cries and even sings along.

Walker herself is fascinating; she introduces the evening as ‘16 and a half songs of womanly misbehaviour’ and praises these early female impersonators for their ‘glamour, skill, illusion and possibility’. Walker sings well with Holmes’s piano as a second character on stage. Together, they belt out the terrifying ‘After the Ball’ and the hilarious ‘Down by the Old Mill Stream’ to much delight. But the highlight of the evening must be the story of Ella Shields and her rendition of ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow’. What is normally a jolly old affair turns into a pathetic, moving tribute.

A potted history of each of these women and their motivations for dressing in trousers has led Walker to challenge her own reasons for making the same choice. Tonight, this journey is the result. Walker is quoted as saying the process has been ‘incredibly rewarding’. This is not only a fact for Walker, but for her audience too. It’s camp without the crass; it’s fabulous without frivolity and for those wanting to forget the current football tournaments and floods, it’s a rare treat.

Reviewed on 24th June 2012

 

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