Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Gertrude Lawrence – A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening

Lucy Stevens

Genre: Biographical Drama, Historical, Music, Musical Theatre, One Person Show

Venue: Assembly Rooms


Low Down

An hour-long musical whirlwind through the life of the great 1930s star of musical comedy, Gertrude Lawrence based on her autobiography A Star Danced.  Portrayed with much heart by the talented actress and singer Lucy Stevens. Accompanied on the piano by the skilful Musical Director and Pianist, Elizabeth Marcus.


With a song, Gertie appears on stage and starts telling her story. She was raised in Clapham, but her early life was in Kennington Oval. With a blink of an eye, we are there, in Kennington Oval, seeing her mother and father and their struggles. A life of ups and downs is interspersed with songs that ‘Little Gertie’ sings with panache. Her father is a drunk, so her mum moves back with grandma and from then on, Clapham is home. Soon, another man enters her mother’s life and becomes her dad. Dad takes mum and six-year-old Gertie to Bognor for a long weekend. Here Gertie, encouraged by her mother, takes part in an audience participation concert. The child promptly wins a gold sovereign. Four years later, Gertie supplements the family income by performing in the Christmas panto at Brixton Theatre. This leads to free lessons with Miss Italia Conti, where she meets a charming fellow her own age, a certain Noel Coward. They become firm friends. Gertie discovers her biological father is a variety singer. Changing her surname to his, Gertie lives with him and his partner Rose. After a few years, Rose encourages Gertie to seek her own fortune. Songs of the period colour her highs and lows until her unexpected death at the age of 54 from cancer.

Stevens is an enthralling performer. Her ability to manipulate her voice to suit the character she is portraying, be it in singing or speaking, is highly entertaining, and one easily forgets that there is only one mature woman on stage, not Noel Coward or a six-year-old child. The additional characters added to Gertie’s story are a delight. The connection between music director/pianist Elizabeth Marcus and Stevens is such that the singer doesn’t even need to look at the instrumentalist for cues. It all just happens. One might become aware of Marcus gently playing in the background during Steven’s monologue when unexpectedly Stevens moves straight into song, surprising the audience with their impeccable timing. Staged in a black box with just one black bar stool, the elegant pale blue satin costume by Philip Sefton and Juliette Bacarese-Hamilton sets the show in the right period without being restrictive. A white furry shawl is repeatedly used to great effect, and even the skirt of the dress gets a little cameo by director Sarah-Louise Young. The choreography feels natural, adding a lot of charm to a very sincere performance. The lighting is simple but very effective, helping to distinguish between on-and off-stage scenes, drawing us more and more into Gertie’s life.

Stevens’ training as an actor and classical singer shows in her excellent control of her voice. Her solid technique allows her to sing in the squeaky voice of a little girl, and later she duets with herself in two tessituras, one being Gertie’s and the other Noel Coward’s. Stevens is very skilled in impersonation. I loved her Little Gertie cockney voice that becomes less and less prominent as the mature international star rises. Of the 22 songs listed in the program, Stevens’ interpretation of “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “The Saga of Jenny,” “London Pride,” “All’s Well, Mademoiselle,” and of course, “Shall We Dance” stood out. The audience was enthralled from the first moment and laughed and cried. Heartfelt laughter filled the house early on and made frequent appearances during the show. There were stifled sniffles and hastily packed away hankies when Stephens and Marcus took their curtain call to a deserved thunderous applause.