LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL: Lanie Robertson
Playhouse: Tkts 01332 363275
Runs: 1 ¾ hours, No interval, till Sat 22nd September 2001
Review: Rod Dungate, 11th September 2001
Has the power to change you – a human being virtually disintegrating in front of you, the effect is unnerving
Billie Holiday (Lady Day), diva among jazz singers, nearing her untimely
death, stands behind a microphone in Emerson’s bar: she entertains an
audience – she calls us all ‘her friends’.
Her mind wanders randomly over the events in her life, yet she finds it
hard to stick to the agreed programme: ‘I like to roam around and find the
song, or rather, let the song find me.’ It’s hard to tell whether the singer
controls the songs or the songs the singer – and why shouldn’t they? We are
the sum total of our songs, the play implies.
Lanie Robertson’s LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL has the power
to change you.
You see a human being virtually disintegrating in front of you – destroyed
by her life and her loves (the closing song DEEP SONG describes the bleak
landscape of love). You are confronted, face to face, with the vile and
pernicious effects of racism. Billie tells us these were the days of great black
singers (among them Bessie Smith) who were never allowed to record the best
songs: Billie tells us that when touring with Artie Shaw, the whole band would
enter a restaurant by the back door and eat in the kitchen with her because it
is the only way she could get in.
Dawn Hope (Billie Holiday in this one woman play) gently controls the
audience beautifully. Whether she is belting out Bessie Smith or describing
black corpses hanging from branches (STRANGE FRUIT – ‘for the sun to rot’)
we are all hers. Hope has a lightness of touch which enables us to believe it is
her improvised train of thought we follow. Warren Wills sensitively
accompanies Hope and supports Holiday throughout. Mark Clements (who
directs) has created a perfect fusion between the play and the small Playhouse
Studio. The effect is, at times, unnerving.
Billie Holiday: Dawn Hope
Jimmy Powers: Warren Wills
Director: Mark Clements
Musical Director: Warren Wills
Set: Chris Crosswell
Costumes: Colin Mayes
Lighting: Alexandra Stafford