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Dirty Blonde review at Duke of Yorks London

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It is difficult to resist the thought that Dirty Blonde is something of an ego trip for Claudia Shear, who both wrote the piece and plays what is very much the starring role as the legendary Mae West.

Although, like most people, my knowledge of West has been gained entirely from seeing her now very ancient films on TV, I have to give an opinion that Shear has neither the right voice for the iconic star, nor, if it is not ungallant to say so, quite the right shape.

This does not prevent Dirty Blonde from being entertaining, however, though here again the actress overdoes things a little by writing herself two roles – West herself and that of the underachieving actress Jo, who is haunted by West’s life, times and image.

It has to be said that the second aspect is the more interesting, as well as being intensely moving by the end of the play, when Jo realises that she is genuinely in love with the nerdish film buff who is also a closet transvestite. This is an unusual but totally believable coming together of two damaged personalities.

The quasi-biographical part of the show is rather sketchy, dealing mainly with West’s most controversial years, writing and starring in Sex and bringing homosexuals to prominence in an age when most people, even in showbusiness, denied their existence. Shear is particularly good when playing the star in extreme old age, still endeavouring to be a sex goddess at 85.

Her two male supporters, Kevin Chamberlin and Bob Stillman, are both outstanding talents, Chamberlin getting to the heart of the unhappy film scholar, Stillman confident and assured both as screaming queen and West’s arthritic old male companion. Moreover, they are excellent pianists as well.

Douglas Stein’s scenic design is exceptionally effective and director James Lapine has imposed shape on what could have been a confusing script.

Production Information

Duke of York’s, London, Opened June 16

Claudia Shear
James Lapine
Dena Hammerstein and Pam Pariseau for James Hammerstein Productions
Claudia Shear, Kevin Chamberlin, Bob Stillman
Running time

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