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A four day work week would be great, but a four day weekend’s even better. As a tongue in cheek, ‘hair of the dog’ antidote to the straight up Jubilee celebrations, doggedly upbeat Music Hall veteran cum ‘artificial hip hop’ rapper Ida Barr from the ‘Hackney/Dalston borders’, offered a comparatively low key variety show chaser the night after the Royal festivities at London Wonderground on the Southbank.
Christopher Green’s Ida Barr, based on the Music Hall original, (1884 – 1967) who I first saw and loved at the Barbican a few years ago, is a true gem in the crown of cabaret theatre. It’s impossible not to look, listen and empathize with personable, self-depreciating Ida, even though she’s an allegedly, dotty old dear. To Green’s credit, Ida always manages to sock it to her audiences through a conscious stream of witty one liners aimed at keeping us not only informed about the plight of the elderly, (poorest paid pensioners in Europe) but sympathizing with them and hopefully, taking Ida enough to heart to remind ourselves we’re all destined for the same boat. ‘Bladder, bladder, bladder that’s all they kept saying on the telly this weekend’, Ida quipped, quickly adding, ‘up and down, up and down…at least I got me aerobic exercise, lovely aerobic exercise’…Sunny side of the street generation.
Having been raised on Saturday night TV variety shows and seen a fair share since, live and recorded, I know they can be risky business, especially if they’re of the late night, ‘Recovery’ variety, as Ida dubbed this one with a knowingly cryptic, bad toothed (R.I.P. NHS dental care) grin. This cavalcade of acts definitely had its highs and lows, but being rather kindly inclined, I’ll start with the best of the batch.
Beneath all his self-grandifying humour, Al Oakey is something of a marvel when it comes to musicianship. Ida being of an arsenic and lace ilk, Oakey tickled the ivories in an admirably olde tyme fashion as we entered the Speigeltent aka London Wonderground post Cantina. For his repartee Oakey twanged the guitar with the offhand ease of one who knows more but takes it in stride as he sang an invitation to the ladies in the audience to come ‘to his room,’ accompanied by grimaces aimed at encouraging lust. But in a two dimensional world (as opposed to one) who cares if Oakey sports a tupee, double chins and is well beyond his salad days. Come on! Doesn’t everybody have a right to feel sexy? Intelligent humour allows plenty of room to face and field prejudices, which Ida addresses via wit.
Going out of sequence in aide of sequined and feathered clarity, Lorraine Bowen, aka Miss Polyester, whom we saw and loudly cheered on at Vauxhall Tavern’s fringe festival last year, is definitely one for the books – your social diary that is, especially if accompanied by her ‘models.’ But solo, as she was here, Lorraine’s still a hoot, not matter what ‘key’ she’s plays her zany Bossa Nova, sing-a-long ‘Burger Song’ on vintage Casio keyboard in. At the Vauxhall, Lorraine felt my sleeve to see if I was worthy of her Polyester cat-walk, which I denied at the time. Though, a glimpse at its label later proved I was indeed guilty of wearing the ‘new miracle, wrinkle free fabric’ as charged!
Other acts of note in this somewhat long line up included Hula Hoop Girl, clad in heels and old fashioned swim-suit, who certainly has muscle control worthy of any top circus, as she simultaneously spins, switches and works more glittering hoops, of varying sizes, than you (or I) could reasonably keep track of. Like the proverbial icing on this cake, utterly camp, indisputably graceful Sugar Dandies, two agile male dancers, glided across the floor as though they were well, Fred and Ginger, though Ginger never dressed as a pink poodle! Tina Turner – tea lady, a young white woman in a wig, sang so much like the ballsy Ms. Turner herself that I found myself wishing she’d cut the smoke and OTT vamping and just belt it out.
Jess Love took gender bending to a new level, high or low depending on your perspective, and Piff the Magic Dragon, a sad-sack magician in a dragon costume, performed a marvelous magic trick, but took so long to get to the punch-line with his scene stealing dog, that I almost forgot the joke. A man in a gorilla suit picked an unwitting gal from the audience, (same one Piff later chose) gesturing towards her to a love song so generically soppy, its name has gratefully faded into the mists of forgetfulness.
Still, it was all in good fun, and in hindsight, there was only one glaring fault to this up and down cavalcade of acts in that that there wasn’t enough of Ida in it, or as she would say, ‘Innit.’