The Diva in Me
9 - 16 March 2013
Sat 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm stage
|Performance||Mon 11 March 2013||7:45pm||Snowed off|
A middle aged single mother tells her life story in songs.
Monday's performance was cancelled due to snow.
Philipa is a middle ages single mother from Coventry, with neither prosperity nor prospects, but inside she is a Diva. As she tells us her life story, by turns funnay and poignant, she sings in the manner of her Diva of the moment, be it Judy, Eartha, Maria or Amy. In the end she surprises her friends and Diva has a kind of triumph.
Written by the author of Humble Boy, who lives locally, this is an exploration of the dream worls of the imagination which lurks in all of us. It is a play with music - with a difference.
Multi award winning playwright Charlotte Jones was originally an actress who left the profession, reportedly, due to the obsession with physical appearance within the industry. Her first play Airswimming debuted in 1997 at The Battersea Arts Centre and since then she has had a number of writing successes including Humble Boy which began at the National Theatre and then played in the West End. She dramatised A Woman in White for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. She also writes for television. Charlotte Jones wrote The Diva in Me in 2010 for her friend the actress/mimic Philippa Stanton. Originally it had one performance at The Brighton Festival. It hit such a chord with the audience that it was remounted for the following festival and then toured. It was also produced as a Radio 4 play.
This one woman play begins with Philippa, a middle aged divorcee, spending Saturday night eating toast and fantasising about a young man from Southern Electric who comes to sort out her wiring. She then recounts her life beginning in a West Midlands guest house run by her parents. She was clearly a little girl who wanted to be special and she began singing in a local choir, encouraged by her grandfather. Philippa then goes to drama school, falls hopelessly and helplessly in love with a gay Welshman who becomes her soul mate, marries a Gene Kelly lookalike who proves to be a terrible mistake, and has a son who she is left alone with when her marriage dissolves. Throughout her life she has managed difficult and mundane times by exercising her inner diva through song. During the play Philippa sings everything from Bjork, Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Eartha Kitt and many more, expressing the inexpressible or buoying herself up by mimicking these larger than life stars singing larger than life songs. As Philippa says, later on in the play, ‘If I do not sing it I do not feel it’.
Meg Depla-Lake, in the role of Philippa, had buckets of warmth, sincerity and candid, impish charm which carried us with her. This is, to use the words of Charlotte Jones, ‘a virtuoso role which requires an awful lot of the performer’ and Meg was relaxed and in control of the challenge. She communicated Philippa’s personal story effectively and impersonated the characters that peopled her life with detail. I especially liked her inhabiting Shadwell, the gay Welshman she meets at drama school, who becomes a life-long friend and her version of her father attempting to control the comings and goings of the B and B she grew up in. Musically (as well as emotionally) this show is non-stop for the actress performing it. Meg did extremely well ‘becoming’ hugely famous divas with a multitude of different styles and voices. She worked seamlessly with her Pianist/Musical Director Roger Roser who played with sensitivity throughout.
I very much liked the set by Keith Gilbert and his team – a bedsit that housed all Philippa’s worldly goods including her collection of cuddly toys, decorated a bit like a 1970s back stage dressing room. It reminded me of many a teenage bedroom which was apt for a character using imaginative fantasy to get through life.
However, I thought the play itself was a little thin. In the second half there is a very effective segment when Philippa’s dear friend Shadwell commits suicide. Philippa recounts the events of his funeral and the reaction of his Welsh family who have not admitted that their son was ‘the only gay in the village’. This emotionally strong scene, played perfectly by Meg, is well placed structurally and shows the depth of writing Charlotte Jones is clearly capable of. It would have been nice to see a bit more of that throughout the play.
Director Joyce Fisher clearly supported Meg Depla-Lake with expertise in what is a challenging role. Meg inhabited the stage with poise and confidence, keeping up her energy and concentration throughout. She left a very appreciative audience as she exited the stage. How rewarding it is that Joyce Fisher and LLT managed to get the amateur rights to this play at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure well known plays.
Meg Depla-Lake’s performance as Philippa in this one-woman play was an absolute tour de force – the reaction of the audience on the night I attended certainly confirmed this. I’m sure we all have an inner diva just below the surface and Charlotte Jones’ clever writing gave us all food for thought.
Philippa is a fascinating character – very happy to come home on Saturday night to eat the toast she enjoyed so much - a quite ordinary girl but with a wonderful imagination. Meg took us through Philippa’s divas in great style, performing their songs at will. She also brought to life the characters she had met during her life so far, including her father who preferred to speak to his family via his intercom and her wonderful gay boy friend who she met at drama college and who sadly eventually committed suicide – one of Philippa’s great sadnesses. There were happy moments as well and we were all drawn into her life from the outset.
The accomplished Roger Roser accompanied Meg in Philippa’s search for her divas from Edith Piaf to Amy Winehouse with many different voices in between including Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Maria Callas, Shirley Bassey and more.
Keith Gilbert’s set design was fascinating – it was Philippa’s home with a wonderfully imaginative backdrop and plenty of props to help tell this story which did have a happy and much more settled ending for her. Although only two people were on the stage, there were many more supporting roles backstage and Director Joyce Fisher together with Stage Manager Sue Tait and their team are to be congratulated on bringing this piece, originally written for the Brighton Festival, to the intimate surroundings of Lewes Little Theatre where it worked so well.
Brenda Gower Regional Representative for the National Operatic & Dramatic Association