Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Gladys Winter is Victoria Wood’s biggest fan. So much so that she can perform any of her sketches at the drop of a hat. And does.
Mo Shapiro’s tribute-in-a-tribute homage to the uniquely talented Victoria Wood presents the reviewer with something of a dilemma. Just who is one supposed to be reviewing? The national treasure herself (who has allowed Shapiro full access to her vast collection of sketches, songs and other material)? Shapiro’s take on her? Or maybe it should be a combination of the two?
In the end I go for the latter as Shapiro neatly sidesteps the issue of whether to try and impersonate Wood directly throughout (nigh on impossible) by wrapping a collection of her sketches and songs around the endearing Gladys Winter. Gladys is Wood’s biggest fan and a character Wood would have been proud of herself, given that she exudes the homely northern charm, flattened vowels and earthy vocabulary so typical of Wood’s own stable.
This works very effectively, providing neat segue ways between such classics as Madeline, the rather chatty hairdresser, Sasharelle, a repulsive sales assistant, the charms of Madge, the fitness instructor, the obligatory search for the missing Kimberly and the wonderful Connie Mottershed, one of my all-time favourites. Punctuating the verbal comedy are a selection of Wood’s best known songs, including Pam and It’s Over, both of which brought howls of laughter from a packed Wee Room in the Gilded Balloon.
Matters threatened briefly to veer off track when Shapiro attempted a straight take on Wood delivering one of her infamous monologues. On all the occasions I saw her live, the real McCoy never missed a syllable – not the case here sadly which resulted in the story getting a bit lost and the punch-line falling rather flat. And the challenge of singing to a backing track that is going to thunder on whatever also meant that the audience missed lyrics because they were so busy laughing. A nice problem to have but one that can easily be addressed by having your technician hit the pause button whilst we all caught up. Better still, go for live music.
But Shapiro’s meticulous attention to detail in terms of the costumes, wigs and mannerisms employed by her heroine plus the exquisite quality of the material she’s got to work with make this show worth a visit, especially for VW fans.