Review: Shida (The Vaults)

Jeannette Bayardelle brings her solo show to London for the first time

Jeannette Bayardelle in Shida
Jeannette Bayardelle in Shida
© Helen Maybanks

There is something pretty epic about watching Jeannette Bayardelle ruling over the stage in the UK premiere of off-Broadway smash Shida, which now finds a temporary home underneath Waterloo Station at The Vaults. The solo show, which sees Bayardelle take on a variety of roles as she narrates the early life of the titular wannabe-writer, flies by at a rapid 80 minutes – never relenting as the years of Shida's life come and go, dreams either turning into realities or relics of the past.

Based on a real story from Bayardelle's life, we see Shida's early life in the Bronx, the way her mother and her schoolteacher get her ambitions to soar. But heartache builds as time draws on – unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse and substance addiction drag the creative talent down, and the light that initially sparkles in Shida's eyes threatens to be extinguished.

The book is a bit shoddy – Bayardelle often opts to describe rather than display, laying things on thicker than need be when the subtext is more than enough to make the tragedy of Shida's life shine. There is some stellar support from lighting designer Clancy Flynn, whose subtle yet disciplined use of washes clearly demarcate different characters, while the band under musical director Noam Galperin tackle the varied elements of the score with aplomb.

There are some massive, tuneful numbers here – "When I Grow Up" in particular allows Bayardelle to flex her vocal muscles. If anything there are too many – songs are rattled off, and some moments are unsatisfyingly brief.

But that doesn't stop what is a brilliant, powerhouse performance – and The Color Purple vet Bayardelle (who not-so-subtly puts herself into Shida's story with a tongue-in-cheek twist) shines. You'll seldom see talents like this performing in such an intimate, provocative way, and her talent is more than enough to justify a trip to see the show.