Jessica Martin is well-known for her West End theatre appearances in such shows as “Me and My Girl”, “Mack and Mabel”, “Marguerite” and “Sunset Boulevard” as well as other productions such as “Babes in Arms”, “The Card”, “Sweeney Todd”, “A Saint She Ain’t”, “The Wizard of Oz” and “South Pacific”. She has made many radio broadcasts and is probably most remembered for her skills as a mimic on London Weekend Television’s “Copycats”. Jessica has a great voice and is a very good mimic, and she puts these talents to good use in “Sunset Bitch”. In some ways it is reminiscent of “Little Me”, Patrick Dennis’s cod biography of Belle Poitrine who always seemed to be around when anything of major importance happened anywhere in the world.
Veronique Raymond is a little like that. Daughter of a movie actress who got no further than being an extra in Hollywood, Veronique appears to have inherited both her mother’s luck and her lack of talent. However, she signs on and gets to appear or not appear with the most famous stars on the planet. On the eve of her return to the London stage, Veronique tells the audience her life story and of her mother’s supporting role in her career. The highlight seems to have been working on “Hollywood Canteen” where Veronique got to meet but everybody. This gives Jessica a chance to air her impersonations of the likes of Shirley Temple, Mae West, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda, Audrey Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins. Does anybody really ‘do’ Miriam Hopkins? Not only that, for Jessica throws in Peter Lorre, John Wayne and James Stewart too, and very smart she is.
We learn that Veronique went to classes with Lee Strasberg as she recounts a scene between Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe rehearsing “Uncle Vanya”. Boy, what we wouldn’t give to see that! Anyway, nothing really worked out for our heroine until she landed the part of the mother in the TV series of “The Swamps”, about a family of swamp people. It sounds almost good or bad enough to be true.
Along the way Jessica illustrates Veronique’s career in song with appropriate showbiz ditties beginning with Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’s ‘You’ve Got Possibilities’ from their show “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman!” Then there’s Billy Barnes’s ‘Busby Berkeley Girl’, Dick Vosburgh and Trevor Lyttleton’s ‘I Love a Film Cliché’ from “A Day in Hollywood”, ‘They’re Either Too Young or Too Old’ (for Bette Davis), ‘Lili Marlene’ (for Dietrich), and ‘You Made Me Love You’ (for Garland); and, for the time she spent in a lowdown cabaret dive, Murray Grand’s ‘What Is a Lady Like Me Doing in a Joint Like This?’ She may well ask… This rather endearing show builds to its hilarious climax when Veronique casts the film version of Willy Russell’s “Blood Brothers”, with Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand auditioning to play Mrs Johnstone. Don’t laugh – it could happen.
Jessica Martin and her musical director Léon Charles keep the pace going in this short, sharp show, although the writers sometimes fall back on some not very recent jokes. Apart from playing the fictitious Veronique Raymond and other parts in musical comedy, Martin must surely have her own life story that she could tell and the sparkling new Waterloo East Theatre would be the ideal place to perform it.
- Sunset Bitch is at Waterloo East Theatre, Brad Street, London SE1 until Sunday 26 September 2010
- Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m, Sunday at 4 p.m.
- Tickets: 020 7928 0060
- Waterloo East Theatre