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All I Want is One Night review at Royal Exchange, Manchester – ‘bittersweet’

Jessica Walker in All I Want Is One Night at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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There was some truth in the boast by French cabaret star Suzi Solidor that she was the most painted woman in the world. From Man Ray to Francis Bacon, they queued up to capture the openly lesbian celebrity chanteuse, who for over thirty years captivated her adoring followers with erotic songs of the sea, sex and sapphic desire. But without Tamara de Lempicka’s iconic 1933 portrait, Solidor is virtually forgotten. Until now.

In All I Want Is One Night, writer, singer and actor Jessica Walker’s short, moving, bittersweet new play, atmospherically staged by Sarah Frankcom in the Royal Exchange’s boardroom – here transformed into Solidar’s La Vie Parisienne cabaret club where she performed surrounded by paintings of herself – offers a fresh portrayal, successfully rising above biographical details to explore the ambisexual star’s life-long obsession with self-image.

Walker certainly looks the part, her luminous androgynous appeal contrasting with the faded final years when the former sophisticate, dressed as an admiral, still wore frightful Harlot’s Rouge lipstick and possessed enough lesbian libido to grope the maid. And Walker’s vibrant mezzo-soprano is as commanding as it was in Pat Kirkwood is Angry at the Royal Exchange in 2012 and the cross-dressing tribute, The Girl I Left Behind Me, only here she brings a lively sensuous sparkle to Solidar’s songs, performed in English for the first time, while recreating a gender-fluid performance milieu laced with fruity double-entendres.

With Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie lending support in a series of cross-dressed roles, it’s just a pity that this seductive portrait of an extraordinary woman is only on show for a few nights.

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Long-forgotten cabaret star and her gender-fluid world is vividly brought to life