Meta-theatre has long been all the rage, with musicals like Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone self-referencing and sending up the genre they are working in. Now Jessica Martin, co-writing with Stewart Permutt and her director Robert Howie, has created a meta-cabaret, in which she offers a biographical cabaret journey through the life of one Veronique Raymond, formerly Veronica Ramirez.
Jessica Martin in Sunset Bitch at Waterloo East Photo: Tristram Kenton
We’ve lately had the slightly gruesome spectacle of real-life stars Debbie Reynolds and Shirley Jones re-visiting their past glory days on the London stage - not to mention the Julie Andrews 02 fiasco - proving that the past can’t readily be summoned. But the elfin Jessica Martin is still in her versatile prime as she illustrates a fictitious career that is very much in the footnotes and margins of the much bigger stars she encounters along the way - thus giving Martin an opportunity to display her astonishing range of astute and sometimes acute impressions.
It’s sometimes a bit like watching the theatrical equivalent of a performer’s showreel, and on this particular carousel she calls up everyone from Liza Minnelli (whom Martin most readily resembles) to Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Ethel Merman and even Marlon Brando. Along the way, she draws on an eclectic source of theatrical songs, with musicals from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman to Lucky Stiff, Nine, Barnum, Chicago and Blood Brothers represented. It’s a musical trainspotter’s paradise; but also a name-dropping one, with a slightly bizarre running gag about Shelley Winters.
The show helps to launch the Waterloo East Theatre, a handsomely converted railway arch around the corner from that station that follows the nearby Union Theatre and the Old Vic Tunnels in providing womb-like theatrical environments that are comfortingly accompanied by the rumble of trains overhead. I hope it runs as long and successfully as that of Veronique Raymond’s opening gambit there.