“I’m not trying to tempt you, that wouldn’t be right;
You shouldn’t drink spirits at this time of night.”
My first visit of the year, and there’ll be many more to come I’m sure, to Wilton’s Music Hall was to Crossing Borders, the first of three performances by Siân Phillips’ of a newly developed cabaret show, directed by Brendan O’Hea with musical direction and accomplished accompaniment from the piano by Kevin Amos. I saw Phillips at this same venue at the launch of the Live at Wilton’s cabaret strand last year and enjoyed her short set immensely so was looking forward to this full show.
Crossing Borders is the latest incarnation of Phillips’ cabaret show, though having read a couple of reviews of some of her earlier shows, I’m not sure exactly how different this one is. But it is a mark of just how exemplary she is in this genre as it genuinely feels like the first time she is telling each anecdote. And boy, what stories she has to tell: lifting the lid on Marlene Dietrich’s diva tantrums and the way she worked audiences; poking fun at the dour Welsh sense of humour with Richard Burton and his brother; her rather marvellous-sounding evangelist of a great-aunt and some hilarious backstage stories featuring Beryl Reid and a drunk.
But best of all was the affection with which she recalled Noël Coward and accordingly, he popped up more than once in the set-list, Phillips being equally at home with his playful lyricism as with letting her rich tones glide through the melancholy of If Love Were All. Other highlights for me were the half-spoken, half-sung If You Go Away (one of my all-time favourite songs), Cole Porter’s ‘Laziest Girl in Town’ performed as Marlene Dietrich, an amusingly weary trot through Sondheim’s ‘The Boy From…’ and the ‘possibly-sponsored-by-Rohypnol’ (as she introduced it) ‘Madeira M’Dear’ which was so very very wrong yet hysterical.
There’s a great pleasure in seeing people do things so supremely well. It may sound simple, but too often cabaret shows are just thrown together with any real thought to the flow of the show, the links and anecdotes that pepper the evening and the skill to truly demonstrate the passion for the material. Siân Phillips manages all of this with an effortless grace and matched with the wonderful acoustics of Wilton’s, Crossing Borders makes for an evening of real class.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 21st January