Sunday, 18 October 2020

Stage: Create the world you want

Buyer & Cellar
by Jonathan Tolins • dir Andrew Beckett
with Aaron Sidwell
Above the Stag Theatre, Vauxhall • 14.Oct–8.Nov.20

There's a lot of fun to be had at this one-man show, a fictionalised exploration of Barbra Streisand's outrageous lifestyle. It's witty and often surprisingly moving, even if the pace lags a bit over 90 minutes. And the show is also clearly aimed at Streisand's gay fans, who know about her movies but aren't quite as up to speed about her music or theatre careers. So you might be disappointed if you're expecting a deeper dive in to all things Barbra.

Alex (Sidwell) energetically bounds onto the stage to tell his elaborate story, which he notes from the top is totally made-up, to avoid any legal issues. An out-of-work actor in Los Angeles, Alex applies for a job in a surreal Malibu mansion and finds himself working on a Ye Olde English street notoriously constructed in Barbra Streisand's basement, a row of shops in which she keeps her huge collection of memorabilia. When Barbra descends for a browse in the doll collection, they roleplay as a shopper and clerk, which breaks the ice, developing into a friendship. But is this relationship any more real than the shops are?

Shifting between characters, Sidwell's performance is excellent, using his voice and physicality to create what feels like a whole cast of riotously colourful people, including Alex's cynical boyfriend, Barbra's husband James Brolin (depicted as nice but dim) and her sardonic house manager. Each is hilariously played, with snappy observations that add colour to Alex's rambling story. And Alex himself is likeable and optimistic, nicely shaded by Sidwell to add some intriguingly dark edges. The staging is simple, skilfully using lighting, sound, music and whizzy projections to shift the settings.

Sidwell delivers each anecdote superbly, even as the writing itself struggles to maintain its momentum. It helps that there are some big themes gurgling through the show, including a look at the general artifice of the lives of the rich and famous. You may be able to buy gorgeous things to fill your home, but that won't bring happiness or personal satisfaction. Even more interesting is the exploration of the impact of childhood on our adult selves, and the way each of us creates the world we want to live in using whatever resources we have. These ideas are beautifully textured in Sidwell's performance, which gives the show a haunting, must-see quality.


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