“No one else has ever shown me how, to see the world the way I see it now”
It is no secret that I am a little bit of a fan of Julie Atherton (although I did have to take her name off the display of tags at the bottom of this page because it was making all the other ones look so small!) and I love that she seems to be constantly working, meaning that there are endless opportunities to see her perform or listen to her recordings. I very much enjoyed Ordinary Days but I was more than a little annoyed when a series of late night post-show cabarets were announced for Wednesday nights, after I’d booked my ticket (for a Thursday) and my diary was already booked up for the Wednesdays she was playing. But as it turned out, Caryl Churchill’s Fen wasn’t too long a play and so a quick tube and a little bit of running from Charing Cross to the Trafalgar Studios later, I made it in the nick of time to her final cabaret show and I could not have been more glad to make it as it really was a superb evening (not least because she was sat RIGHT NEXT TO ME at one point in the evening and I totally managed not to lose it).
The beauty of cabarets is that they can be mixed to showcase all sorts of things, they’re not beholden to a strict format or theme beyond those that are self-imposed and so it was tonight. We got a nice smattering of cabaret standards delivered with her customary vocal precision (does anyone do wordy comic songs better than her? I think not) and some tracks from her latest album No Space For Air, including the beautiful ‘Never Saw Blue Like That’ (which random pointless trivia fact fans, was one of my big sister’s favourite songs way back cos it was on the Dawson’s Creek 2 soundtrack!). But this freedom to do the songs she wants meant that we were also treated to one of the songs that didn’t make it onto the album, a tender version of Damien Rice’s ‘Cannonball’, her take on the written-for-a-man ‘Someone To Fall Back On’ by Jason Robert Brown and her playing around with Wicked’s ‘For Good’ with Oliver Tompsett as Glinda, a surprisingly effective choice.
Other guests included Steven Webb who sang a lovely solo rendition of ‘Left Spain’ from recent new musical Departure Lounge before duetting on ‘The Argument’ from Stiles & Drewe’s Just So, which in turn led to my personal highlight, Julie’s powerfully moving ‘Wait A Bit’ which breaks my heart every time I hear it. Tom Parsons (Mr Julie Atherton himself) also got a turn in the spotlight with a quietly impassioned take on ‘Lilac Wine’ which came after a witty duet about being hungover which I liked but have to admit I’d hadn’t heard before.
The affection and esteem with which she is held by her contemporaries is evident with the range of guests who have performed with her over the course of her cabarets, but it was brilliantly amusing to see Tompsett and Webb re-enacting a story of her clambering over musicians to remind herself of words she thought she had forgotten, quickly followed by Tompsett making a slight snafu with his own lyrics in ‘For Good’ and then Atherton making her own mistake whilst mocking his – truly a sitcom in the making here!
I could wax lyrical about the many ways in which I love Julie Atherton for days, so many of which were in evidence here: the beauty of her voice, her passion for new musical theatre and taking risks on new writers, the frankness with which she talks about a certain breed of theatre producer, her support for the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, introducing Avenue Q into my life, even the way she represents Lancashire (woo!). For me though, I think it is mainly the way in which she commits so fully to the words and emotions of whatever it is she is singing, one cannot help but be drawn into her world whilst she is on the stage and boy, is it a beautiful world. And it is that little moment before she delivers the final line in so many of the songs that shows how magical and exciting a performer she really is.