So This, Then, Is Life
A cabaret with songs and words by David Shrubsole, Victoria Saxton, Noël Coward, Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson, Lily Allen, Michael Flanders, Donald Swann, Tom Lehrer, Duncan Sheik, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Victoria Wood, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Stephen Sondheim, Rudyard Kipling, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Julian Slade, and Dorothy Reynolds
Simon Green (singer) & David Shrubsole (musical director & piano accompaniment)
Reviewed by: Tom Vallance
Reviewed: 6 May, 2014
Venue: The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London
The Crazy Coqs has occasionally played host to offbeat acts, but none has surely been as courageously different and innovative as the programme Simon Green presents with his cabaret partner, David Shrubsole. The subject of ‘Life’ would seem to give an unbounded choice of material in songs alone, but Green includes a fair sampling of poetry and prose as well, some of it given melodic form by Shrubsole. He starts with the telling words that Daphne Du Maurier wrote in Rebecca when describing how “easily bruised” one can be in one’s youth… “They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one.” I’m not sure if these musicalised passages, which could best be described as ‘settings’ rather than tunes, would be better spoken, though I feel I should add here a qualification that the entertainment trade paper Variety used to invariably use when reviewing a new musical, “On the questionable basis of a first hearing…”
It is certainly a joy when Green breaks into such beguiling melodies as Noël Coward’s underrated ‘Time and again’ or Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Old friends’, while other numbers are pleasurably eclectic, from Lily Allen’s ‘I should say’, celebrating the freedom bestowed by a severed partnership, to the movingly reflective remembrance of carefree childhood, ‘Look, mummy, no hands’ by Dillie Keane and Adèle Anderson, originally introduced by Fascinating Aïda. Several of the songs are joyfully risible, such as Coward’s ‘Alice is at it again’, Tom Lehrer’s ‘I got it from Agnes’ and Victoria Wood’s depiction of school-age infatuation, ‘Crush’. Lehrer has a second number, providing words of wisdom for Boy Scouts in ‘Be prepared’ (“Don’t write naughty words on the wall if you can’t spell”). Green also revives a little-known Coward song from the revue Sigh No More titled ‘Let’s live dangerously’.
Among the writers from whom Green plunders pithy comments on aspects of life are Walt Whitman, A. E. Housman and Pam Ayres. Though much of the advice that is proffered is predictable (“Have the courage of your convictions”) the musical interpretations chosen rarely are. An exhortation to be as positive as possible would surely lead to the Kander & Ebb song, ‘Yes’, but Green uses other sources for conveying the message. On the subject of love, several aspects are covered by such rapturous expressions of ardour as Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer’s ‘Out of this world’ and Sondheim’s ’Too many mornings’. Every number benefits from Green’s excellent delivery and articulation, plus the splendid playing of Shrubsole, and this rewarding evening has the perfect ending when they revive an almost forgotten song from Salad Days, which declares that ‘I’m having the time of my life’.
- Simon Green & David Shrubsole are at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until Saturday 10 May 2014
- Bookings 020 7734 4888