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Earlier this year I reviewed a couple of Elizabeth Huskisson’s original plays with Sort Sol Theatre: Where Have All Our Women Gone? and TOSKA. These political productions had a profound impact on me with their conscientious storytelling, so when I received an invitation to review Battersea Bardot: a new musical that Huskisson was directing, I immediately said yes. Presented by Theatrically Becca, it is a musical about sixties icon Carol White and her tragically short life. Starring Anne Rabbitt as White and running at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio until Saturday 23rd September, I ended up watching the one-woman show on the penultimate day of the run. I was interested to learn more about the actress through nearly two hours of musical theatre.
The new musical follows Carol White’s rocky relationship with fame and fortune. It is an incredibly dark musical as the performer’s career ended extremely early and she died so young, with White reflecting on the life experiences that made and broke her. Covering topics such as suicide, alcoholism, drug use and sexual abuse, the fairly short piece of theatre details a considerable chunk of White’s life, from the swinging sixties and the height of her fame to falling out of the limelight.
Initial thoughts on the musical format
My main issues are with the songs and the rapid, almost jumpy transitions between the musical sequences and spoken sections. The show is fast-paced and a little jarring, with how swiftly it progresses. I like the gritty side of the material, specifically the onstage ambiance and Rabbitt’s powerful and honest monologues, but this doesn’t get enough focus against the vast number of songs. Huskisson is a master at portraying powerful and insightful speeches and you can see their influence on the material. I just wish this was given a greater amount of weight in the production, rather than constantly jumping into song.
Despite my initial thoughts about the music, Ewen Moore’s score and lyrics do add sentiment to the production and offer a fantastic insight into White’s state of mind. Standout numbers are With You There, New Year 1969 and We All Love To Linger Around The Lido with their storytelling, passion and sixties sound. Unfortunately this doesn’t extend to the entire score, as a considerable amount of the setlist feels too similar in terms of theming and melody. Essentially there is a lack of distinction in the soundtrack and the musical material comes across as repetitive. The lyrics are also quite verbose, which makes it hard to catch every word that is being said. Overall, the production could benefit from a slight reduction in the number of songs to allow more room for spoken word.
The musical’s book feels scatty with its constant transitions between time periods. Whilst I can see the need for flashbacks in telling White’s life story, I struggled to understand the production’s sense of direction with the constant flitting between different parts of White’s life. That being said, framing the segments with scene descriptions and a ‘lights, camera, action’ structure like a script is clever and reflective of the overall Hollywood theme. Rabbitt also has such confidence and conviction in these sections, encompassing White’s film-influenced life.
Lighting, set and costume design
Emily Louise Munt’s set and costume design are inspired, heavily reflecting the late sixties era and the overall sombre atmosphere of the musical. The stage has a hazy glow which visually mirrors some of the dark and seedy themes covered. There are so many different lighting arrangements within the show which consider the turbulent and triggering plot points. On the whole Alex Forey’s lighting is strong, particularly the flashing paparazzi style lighting, but in a couple of places it is blinding and too intense. I commend the variation, but think the show could benefit from some softer lighting in places.
There is a light musical backing throughout the show with a piano and string section performed by Musical Director Gabrielle Ball and cellist Annie Hodgson. It acts as the backbone to the production, complimenting Rabbitt’s lines of dialogue and coming into full force during the vocal tracks. Rabbitt sings without a microphone and in places, they are overpowered by the backing music. It would be good to see a greater balance between the vocals and backing or alternatively Rabbitt singing through a microphone.
Ilia Higgs’ sound effects are intriguing, adding drama to the production. At points I struggled to see the significance of the variety of sounds though, with them at times taking attention away from Rabbitt’s acting. The dramatic weather effects for example do contribute to the bleak atmosphere of the show, but Rabbitt’s acting deserves a deeper focus and a quieter atmosphere on stage, to really showcase the emotion of the piece.
Battersea Bardot has promise in its musical recreation of the troubled icon’s life, but the songs and narrative need development to strengthen the overall production. In its current state the jarring transitions from music into spoken word make the musical a little difficult to watch. Battersea Bardot closes at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio this evening, after over a week of performances.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for Battersea Bardot was gifted in exchange for a review.