The Making of a Woman epitomises why fringe matters. Why? Because this simple production is a surprisingly well told and personal story which holds its audience spell-bound from the moment the overture, played by Maria Dunn on the night I went, begins. Leave your pre-conceptions outside in the alley as, pushing through the heavy wardrobe doors, our hero / heroine appears singing In My Own Little Corner. Is this a man in a woman’s world or a man with the essence of a fantasy woman?
Through 22, perfectly pitched, Rogers and Hammerstein songs, creator / performer Gregoire Aubert transfixes and enchants us into his world-within-a-wardrobe. Having the musical focus on just one lyricist / composer partnership works on two levels, firstly, the clear focus on the material leads to the re-interpretation of these songs outside of their original musical context and era and, secondly, the performance works simply on the level of ‘sing-a-long’ with a subversive difference!
At this performance it is a comfortable mix of the two, with audience members singing along, clearly engrossed and moved at the same time. The central idea is of a boy realizing his emotions through these superb songs, all written for woman. Intriguingly though, Honey Bun was written for a woman in male ‘drag’, so Aubert could be said to be singing the role of a man, playing a woman, playing a man - a deliciously rare concept.
It is a soul stripping tour de force, carrying the audience into both the character’s, then their own personal emotional space. Climbing (Every Mountain) to a fortissimo finale, The Making of a Woman sends us back out onto the rainy May streets of Brighton knowing that we, like the character, “Will Never Walk Alone”. This truly original and quirky theatre is a sensational UK acting debut from Frenchman Aubert, whose scorching singing re-defines these torch songs.
This is not the Really Useful Theatre Company at the Palladium nor, heaven forbid, Cowell on the TV. This is inventive theatre presented at its inception, with depth and reality by a talented performer. Don’t go to fringe shows expecting slick scene changes, expensive sets and two dimensional gloss; go for quality of (unknown) performers, striking pioneering thought and simple pared-back production values more in tune with Oxfam than X-factor.
Aubert’s training at one of France’s premier drama conservatoires and years of experience as a vagabond performer / artist truly shines through in this absorbing piece of theatre. To call it ‘avant-garde’ would itself be passé, The Making of a Woman is fringe theatre at its innovative best.