Victor/Victoria is a stark reminder that Ray Davies knew what he was about when he wrote that “Girls will be boys/And boys will be girls/It’s mixed-up, shook-up muddled up world”.
This story, about a female singer who reinvents herself as a female impersonator, was originally conceived by Blake Edwards as a vehicle for his wife, Julie Andrews. The subsequent film, which featured a superb Robert Preston in the role of Toddy means that there is a high standard to live up to.
Phil Wilmott’s production falls a long way short. I don’t necessarily want to see great acting in musicals. I don’t need to see fantastic sets and I appreciate that the Bridewell is operating on a restricted budget. But I do expect some decent songs and a cast who can sing them. Henry Mancini’s music is fine but Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics sound clunky with some particularly contrived rhymes.
Ria Jones as Victoria is a good singer and competent dancer and is easily the standout performer. The only trouble with Jones’s performance is that her cut-glass English accent reminded me too much of Julie Andrews’ voice, as if it were a conscious imitation.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the meanings of masculinity and femininity here, but they’re lost: one minute Victoria is a woman, the next minute she’s wearing a dinner jacket and we’re to assume she’s a man. Compare this with the Globe’s season last summer where various women explored all the facets of playing men. So, why did Victoria’s voice sound exactly the same when she was being a woman as when she was being a Polish count? No wonder King Marchant wasn’t fooled – I doubt if anyone in Paris was.
What’s worse however is the overall standard of singing. The ensemble numbers are, without exception, horribly flat – is there a problem with the acoustics? But the solo singers (with the exception of Jones) are mediocre as well.
The other problem with this storyline is that times have moved on since the early 80s. Much of the plot revolves around the idea that nothing is quite what it seems and that people who might seem completely heterosexual could have gay feelings (oh, the shock). One of the songs even draws our attention to this phenomenon. But are we surprised any more? The days when singers or actors had to hide their sexuality are long gone – their private lives are plastered all over Hello magazine. It gave the whole evening a slightly old-fashioned tinge.
I wanted to like this, I really did. The Bridewell deserves plenty of support for offering an alternative to the West End musicals and has built up a good reputation for its shows. Unfortunately, this is not one of them.