FEAST at Wilton’s Music Hall
“a feast for the eyes and ears with an interesting perspective that should keep the audience gripped”
Feast tells the story Jessica, a woman on the verge of a promotion, desperately trying to impress to get it. It’s theatre about class barriers, trying by any means to fit in, and what impact that has on a person – universal themes explored innovatively with operatic style. The piece opens with Jessica speaking to someone we assume to be in HR about the previous evening’s events – giving a sense of trepidation for what’s to come. We are then transported to the evening in question with Jessica as narrator, punctuated by song, as if for the HR person’s benefit.
Stephanie Wake-Edwards gives an outstanding performance as Jessica and developed the original concept alongside Simone Ibbet-Brown. Despite not being an opera afficionado, the storytelling of the piece was not lost on me. Stephanie’s expressions and physicality communicate the meaning that the language cannot.
Is Feast an operatic cabaret? A jukebox musical? It’s described by the company as ‘a musical monologue’, which it sort of is, except, not quite. Joey Akubeze, Joseph Black and Andy Bewley are all on stage throughout the first act contributing heavily to the dialogue, although not to the musical numbers, as three important men in Jessica’s life. Each brings a unique style to their characters and interest to the plot.
The score shows Wake-Edwards’ range as a performer, at times victorious, vengeful or vulnerable. There are some original compositions by Ben Comeau, with the whole piece performed confidently on the piano by musical director André Callegaro. Interspersed with the operatic numbers are some more folk, pop or rock songs that will be familiar to many, although interpreted differently. Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You was a surprise and, whilst not an unpopular song to cover, was the first time I had heard an operatic version. Where Joni is haunting, Stephanie is resonant – a moving tribute and unique take.
The first act is heavier on the dialogue, with music used to convey a particular emotion or moment. It’s also more outward facing with Jessica speaking directly to the audience, presenting herself to the world and her men in it. The tension builds, as slowly and steadily falling apart the perfect persona loses grip, climaxing with an unexpected moment of surrealism that closes the first act.
The shorter second act becomes an introspective psycho drama that is much more music heavy. This shift in style could be interpreted as reflective of the drama – Jessica’s mask has slipped and she’s turning inward, reflecting on who she really is, not just as who she projects herself as. More cynically, it doesn’t hurt for Wake-Edwards to have thirty minutes of almost uninterrupted singing to showcase her talents. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable performance, particularly her rendition of Mama by Shirley J Thompson, where every repetition of the two syllables conveys a new emotion.
The piece could do with some tightening round the edges. The people and relationships between them are not always clear, not helped by some rather rushed dialogue at key moments by Wake-Edwards. It slightly adds to the shroud of mystery over Jessica’s own character, and sense that not everything is as it seems – but more often just makes you feel as if you’ve missed something. The tech was also a bit slow to cue, there were moments where Wake-Edwards was clearly uncomfortable with her costume and hair, and a few issues with props that, on their own, would be nothing major. However, taken together it suggested a little more polish wouldn’t go amiss.
Nonetheless, Stephanie Wake-Edwards delivers a feast for the eyes and ears with an interesting perspective that should keep the audience gripped.
FEAST at Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed on 15th September 2023
by Amber Woodward
Previously reviewed at this venue: