Buyer and Cellar
Above the Stag
Reviewed – 15th October 2020
“Throughout the show, Sidwell is a master of timing and expression.“
In the list of the greatest female, gay icons, Barbara Streisand is at the top – pipped to the post only by Judy Garland. It is no wonder, then, that the sassy, superstar outcast, whose fabled career, love life and ground-breaking AIDS work has been watched, admired and imitated for decades, should find herself the focus of a theatre show. Moreover, a show that ingeniously crosses the divide between celebrity-driven entertainment and candid cultural commentary. I’d been previously told that to enjoy “Buyer and Cellar”, you need to be both a dyed-in-the-wool Barbara Streisand fan and a lover of all things ‘camp as Christmas’. Not true in the slightest. Whether it helps I couldn’t tell you (I am not particularly either); but the beauty of Jonathan Tolins’ writing coupled with Aaron Sidwell’s cheeky and captivating performance unashamedly shatter any preconceptions with gay abandon.
It began as a throwaway idea planted in the fertile mind of Tolins, which has grown into a ninety-minute sketch. Although ‘sketch’ doesn’t do justice; there are fabulous washes of colour and shade between the lines. We are told from the start that what follows is fiction, although it’s served up with great truths of humanity. Aaron Sidwell is Alex More, an out of work actor, fired from his job at Disneyland and landing a mysterious job caretaking an underground shopping mall in the basement of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu mansion. Alex doesn’t know this at first and, although we do, we still share his wide-eyed glee when he discovers who the lady of the house is.
Sidwell commands the stage as Alex More, slipping into the other characters with ease; including his bitchy boyfriend, Barry; the sardonic secretary, Sharon; Babs’ hubby, James Brolin and of course Streisand herself. He eschews impersonation. Instead Sidwell teases her, simultaneously evoking Streisand’s detractors’ distaste for her celebrity eccentricities, but also highlighting the vulnerability and isolation that is often found when you reach the top of your game.
But there’s no danger of wallowing in too much pathos. The laughs come thick and fast. We delight in the moments of surreal situation comedy, like when Streisand haggles with Alex over the price of her own doll in the shop window, or fussily orders a frozen yoghurt with childlike precision. Throughout the show, Sidwell is a master of timing and expression.
Buried below the fiction of the piece, of which we are repeatedly reminded, is the fact behind the inspiration: Barbara Streisand’s coffee-table book, “My Passion for Design” – a hefty tome that documents the real-life shopping mall beneath her home. David Shields’ design doesn’t try to replicate this but instead suggests the weird world with projections. Similarly, director Andrew Beckett has created an atmosphere that doesn’t duplicate the bizarre reality but conjures up an intoxicating mix of fact and fiction. It’s a gorgeous cocktail of reverence and satire, affection and aversion; bubbling with Sidwell’s energy and natural stage presence.
Yes, high camp and showbiz it is, but with more insight than in-jokes. There might not be a lot of theatre at the moment to choose from, but even if there was, this would still be a ‘must see’.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by PBGStudios
Buyer and Cellar
Above the Stag until 8th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: