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Hastings Fringe 2019

Shirley The Middle Aged Siren

Debbie Bridge

Genre: Cabaret, Music, Opera and Operatic Theatre

Venue: On The Rocks


Low Down

This is the story of a gal from New York and she’s bringing her antics to Hastings in a classic cabaret style but with an operatic twist.

Shirley finds herself ‘Washed Up’ on the shores of Hastings. She laments the trials of middle age, excess blubber, sea fog and inevitable invisibility.



We are in a small basement room, fitted out ‘cabaret style’. The room’s walls are decorated with CD’s and Records. It gives the place a fun, glam rock, glitzy look. As it turns out, its well suited to tonight’s show.

As we take our seats, Shirley is setting up. She chats easily and amusingly with the audience. Already you can see there is a strong personality at work. To some extent this is reinforced by her appearance. Bedecked in a White wig, dressed as a Mermaid and wearing orange arm bands, she is clearly distinctive.

The size of the room, her costume and personality go along way to making this feel like a warm, friendly and intimate show.

As Shirley introduces herself, you can hear the New York accent in her voice. Twanging somewhere between The Sopranos and Janice from Friends. It makes what comes next seem all the more surprising.

This show is about a journey that starts with not fitting in, how her parents tried to get her to fit and how she ended up doing something she was good at but didn’t enjoy. It’s all linked together through songs, shows tunes, comic songs and opera.

What is remarkable is Shirley’s voice. Powerful, emotive and clear. From the first notes of the first song, no matter how dead eared you are, and I am, it’s clear you’re with someone who can really sing. In an intimate atmosphere, the voice becomes even more impactful.

The songs are good, be it musical numbers, show tunes or opera. My highlights were the opera, and a comic song called Sea Fog. The latter being about mental decay. It resonates with us older folk and had some savage touches. If Shirley has any more of these in the bag I’d urge her to get them out. From the audience responses, my high points seemed to echo everyone elses.

However, not all was golden. Shirley’s big personality works when talking unguardedly with the audience, she is someone you want to talk too. But the links and stories between songs seemed disjointed and unclear.

Whilst I think I understood the metaphor of the Mermaid/Siren the growth, evolution and acceptance, it took too much explaining. Some of the jokes were too contrived to be genuinely funny. Whilst I can’t speak for the room I don’t think Shirley needs the Mermaid/Siren character.

There is enough talent, and snippets of an interesting life coupled with an outstanding talent, for Shirley to simply tell her story. Perhaps a more in-depth telling of personal tales would work better, rather than hiding behind the character. This would allow her to ‘beef up some of the jokes’ and better use her lively sense of humour.

Overall the audience enjoyed the show. Everyone joined in with a rousing rendition of ‘I could have danced all night’. The applause at the end was sustained and most hung around to talk to Shirley afterwards.

If you like watching a talented singer, perform a wide range of songs in an intimate atmosphere this is a good show to see.