Tag Archives: Jonathan Evans

TOMORROW MAY BE MY LAST

Tomorrow May Be My Last

★★★★★

Old Red Lion Theatre

Tomorrow May Be My Last

Old Red Lion Theatre

Reviewed – 26th May 2022

★★★★★

 

“Cooper embodies Joplin, strips her bare and dresses her up again in her own commanding and charismatic personality”

 

There’s a three-piece band jamming’ the blues, wearing shades and bandanas; stars and stripes are draped over chairs; a battered sofa; crumpled dreams bathed in tie-dye and the glow of lava lamps. Hard liquor and disembodied voices transporting us back to the ‘Summer of Love’.

That’s just the pre-show.

“Ladies and gentlemen – Janis Joplin!”. The band strikes up. The band breaks off. “Ladies and gentlemen – Janis Joplin!”. The band strikes up. The band comes to another resigned stop. Third time lucky. Joplin appears. The worse for wear, but totally fired up. And she’s off.

Did I just refer to Janis Joplin? I meant Collette Cooper. It’s difficult to separate the two. The mannerisms are spot on, thoroughly researched and executed. The drunken cackle, the Texan drawl, and the expletives. The physicality is striking, and Cooper’s voice has the ravaged quality Joplin possessed, soaked in the same spirit. The essence is undeniable and uncanny. Joplin courses through Cooper’s veins, striking right to her fierce heart. This is a stunning performance from start to finish.

Set in a festival, and backstage in her dressing room, in the late ‘60s, “Tomorrow May Be My Last” is a musical, anecdotal and a devastatingly emotional journey through the life and career of Janis Joplin. In between the songs, Cooper crawls into Janis Joplin’s skin and addresses the audience by way of talking, not so much to herself, but to her beloved bottle of Southern Comfort. Intimate and husky, she sears our hearts with self-deprecation, self-analysis, drunken logic, and raw revelations. And song.

Early on in life, Joplin gave herself two choices; either fit in or “become a fucking Rock Star”. She burnt bright, burnt fast, and at twenty-seven years old, her flame had burnt its last. Thankfully, Joplin never fitted in. But nor did she escape her childhood demons, the bullying that informed her body image. And she could never shake off the cloak of loneliness that forever weighed her down. “A Woman Left Lonely” is delivered by Cooper with gut-wrenching rawness and honesty.

The show features some of Joplin’s best-loved songs, placing them in glorious context by Cooper’s reminiscences. Launching into “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”, she flawlessly depicts the chasm that lies between the person and the personality that is seen on the global stage. Like many of the numbers, it is preceded by a perfect evocation of stage fright. We can taste the vulnerability, such is Cooper’s mesmerising performance. Backstage the loneliness throbs to the dying backbeat.

On stage she knew no limits. “Ball and Chain” was a landmark song in Joplin’s career, and a defining point in the show. Cooper commands her audience, ignoring the fact we may be sitting above an Islington pub. Instead, we are at the Monterey Festival, we are witnessing the birth of the ‘Summer of Love’.

“I don’t write songs, I make them up” Cooper tells us, paraphrasing Joplin while seamlessly adding one of her own compositions (co-written with Musical Director Mike Hanson). “Tomorrow May Be My Last” could be plucked from Janis’ own repertoire; it epitomises the mix of hope, idealism and tragedy that followed Joplin throughout her fleeting life. Throughout the evening, Cooper captures the essence, explores the danger, and amazingly unearths deep grooves of humour too.

With Jan Simpson on drums, Jack Parry on guitar and Dan Malek on bass, the effect is complete. Through the music Cooper not only comes to life, but she brings Joplin back to life. And sends her off again with a glittering finale. Joplin’s wild heartbeat finally comes to rest as the belt tightens around her arm, and the final drop of heroin chokes her veins. Almost before we can register the sadness and brutal waste of a life cut short, Cooper turns it back into a celebration of that extraordinary life. “Take another little piece of my heart” she sings. She puts her heart into this show, then hands it over to us. And we gladly take more than just a little.

Cooper embodies Joplin, strips her bare and dresses her up again in her own commanding and charismatic personality. Intimate and intense, we see the minutiae and the global side by side. We are forewarned that the show is “proper Rock and Roll loud”. As befitting the genre, Cooper comes back for an encore of “Me and Bobby McGee: “Feeling good was good enough for me…”. Well, there’s an understatement. The feel-good factor is off the scale.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robin Hope

 

 


Tomorrow May Be My Last

Old Red Lion Theatre until 11th June

 

Other shows recently reviewed by Joe:
Us | ★★★★ | White Bear Theatre | February 2022
The Straw Chair | ★★★ | Finborough Theatre | April 2022
The Silent Woman | ★★★★ | White Bear Theatre | April 2022
The End of the Night | ★★ | Park Theatre | May 2022
Orlando | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | May 2022
The Man Behind the Mask | ★★★★ | Churchill Theatre | May 2022
Til Death do us Part | ★★★★★ | Theatre503 | May 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | May 2022
Grease | ★★★★ | Dominion Theatre | May 2022
Legally Blonde | ★★★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | May 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde

★★★

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Reviewed – 24th May 2022

★★★

 

“It is a joy ride, although it does sometimes feel like you’re riding on a bus full of teenagers”

 

So where exactly did the stereotype originate? The Blonde Stereotype that is. Negative (‘dumb blonde’) or otherwise (‘blonde bombshell’), the perception of blonde-haired women has ignored the lack of evidence that suggests that blondes are less intelligent than other people. The first recorded ‘dumb blonde’ appeared in a French play in 1775; “Les Curiosités de la Foire’. She was dumb in the literal sense in that she didn’t talk much. Since then, blondes have had more fun, gentlemen have preferred them, and Hitchcock has fetishized them.

In 2001, writer Amanda Brown wrote about her experience as a blonde at Stanford Law School in various letters to friends which later became a novel and the box office success that was “Legally Blonde”. The musical, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach, opened on Broadway in 2007 to mixed reviews. It’s West End run, starring Sheridan Smith, won three Olivier Awards, including Best Actress in a Musical for Smith.

The temptation is strong to focus on the possible relevance the story might have in today’s society. It is a cliché to state that times have certainly changed since the narrative themes burst forth into our consciousness. But it is safe to say that Lucy Moss’ staging is as self-aware as it can possibly be. Moss, riding on the global success “Six”, brilliantly uses the opportunity to satirise pretty much every stereotype possible. Nobody is safe. But what is extraordinary under her direction is the sheer sense of fun she brings to the production.

“Six” alumni Courtney Bowman commands the stage as the central character, Elle. Heartbroken after being dumped by her boyfriend Warner (Alistair Toovey) for not being serious enough, she decides she can win him back by showing she can achieve the same ambitions in the legal profession as him. In a plot line that loses touch with any form of credibility, she is accepted into the law school, rises high against odds and prejudices and eventually surpasses Warner. Along the way, everybody is put in their place, including misogynist law professors, jealous perjurers, closet gays. In fact, the characters who come out on top are the underdogs. The seemingly vacuous who ultimately reveal more depth than those who mock them.

Despite being hindered by a predominantly unmemorable score, the show still wins us over with its anergy and infectious comedy. And a couple of musical delights. The wit of O’Keefe and Benjamin’s lyrics shine through in particular during “Serious”, “Blood in the Water” and “Gay or European” which is surely the highlight of the night. It is miraculous how the words are sung so clearly with tongues so firmly set in the cheek. Homophobia, jingoism, and a whole host of other ‘isms’ are shot to the ground in a joyous few minutes of musical theatre snap, crackle and pop. Act Two opener, “Whipped Into Shape” showcases Ellen Kane’s slick choreography, pushing the all singing, all dancing ensemble to the limit.

“Legally Blonde” retains its comedy and loses none of its subversiveness in this brash and thoroughly camp production at Regents Open Air Theatre. It is a joy ride, although it does sometimes feel like you’re riding on a bus full of teenagers. Whilst there is little room for subtlety against the backbeat and spectacle, the current MT trend to introduce a Disney, cartoon-like, nasal shrillness to the delivery does grate over a couple of hours. But it’s worth it to reach the happy ending, buoyed up by the feel-good sensations that bounce the evening along.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Legally Blonde

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 2nd July

 

Last show reviewed at this venue:
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews