Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Evelyne Brink, "the UK’s Number One Madonna Impersonator" presents an autobiographical show that charts her development as a performer in her own right, finding a happier relationship with a role that began to overshadow her own individuality as a person and performer. A story performed in words and music – her own and Madonna’s.
Touching Edinburgh for the very first time, Almost Like a Virgin is a cleverly told story of the emergence of Evelyne Brink as a person and a perfomer in her own right, out of the "Nightingale’s Cage" of being best known as the UK’s premier impersonator of Madonna.
Brink can tell stories; Brink can sing; Brink can dance. Brink looks like Madonna. In a high energy and often touching autobiographical piece, Almost Like a Virgin tells the tale of a young, German-Jewish girl and her wish to make her grandfather proud of her by gaining acceptance, not only in the eyes of the public, but also in her own eyes.
What emerges is a piece of theatre based around, not only the hits of Madge, but also the very impressive musical writing and singing repertoire of Brink herself.
The Diva addresses the audience through a mirror frame, a twinkle in her eye. "Hello, I’m not Madonna." We’re in Brink’s dressing room for the day – a five-room suite in Honduras. ("One of the parts of the world that Brink gets to, that Modanna doesn’t"). She is "ready for the stage". In a studied performance, we’re taken not only through the Madonna back catalogue, but the story of Brink’s life. "If you’re going to be a tribute" says Brink, "you might as well be a tribute to the best." And she reminds us, one in every thirty people alive today has bought a Madonna song.
This is a play of parallels. We hear of Madonna’s global, stellar life; we experience comparisons between stadiums and stag nights, between 02 and Wetherspoons. The comedy is observational, not only of celebrity, but also of Brink’s own life story. The lyrics of Brink’s own songs and her pastiches on Madonna. (Hey, Mr Surgeon, is sharp and witty), are a strength in a show that is essentially an exploration of the "problem of celebrity", and, on a deeper level, of losing oneself in the impersonation of another. The music video sequence of Brink-as-Madonna is funny and cleverly done.
The central conceit is clever. Do we have a show about Madonna or a show about an ordinary person trying to be extraordinary. Is this really a play about Brink herself, with Madonna as a part of THAT story, rather than vice versa?
The core strength of this production is the storytelling in words and music of Brink herself. The acting isn’t always consistent and some parts of the show work theatrically better than others. Brink is most at home playing Madonna, or, make-up off, simply being herself. The space in between is sometimes a bit hesistant and stumbling.
That said, what we have here is a strong performance, a very engaging story and something which explores celebrity and self in a clever and witty way. The audience loved both Madonna and Brink, but I sense they loved Brink more.