Sunset Bitch

Written by Stewart Permutt, Robert Howie and Jessica Martin

Waterloo East Theatre

(2010)

Review by Sandra Giorgetti

Waterloo East Theatre is London's newest performing venue, opening earlier this month following the lightening-speed refitting of a railway arch a stone's throw from Waterloo Station.

Not to be confused with the ex-Eurostar terminal - currently home to The Railway Children - or the new-but-temporary Jellyfish Theatre also nearby, this venue has something of a TARDIS effect with its small, understated entrance giving onto a surprisingly open and airy, if petite, area that houses the lobby, bar and box office.

The theatre space itself benefits from some of the most comfortable seating to be found in off-West End venues and the graphic nod to West Side Story on the loo doors is a nice touch - thanks to my companion for spotting that one. In terms of the building, the only 'downer' is the smell of damp which hopefully can be easily and cheaply resolved for this not-for-profit enterprise.

Waterloo East's opening season kicks off with New York Fringe Festival 2005 award-winning Sunset Bitch, a collaboration between the show's director Robert Howie, its performer Jessica Martin, and writer Stewart Permutt whose play Real Babies Don't Cry won him a Fringe First at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

In this one woman musical comedy Ms Martin stars as Veronique Raymond, a self-proclaimed legend of the golden age of Hollywood, who leads us through the ups and downs of her life story with songs of the period interspersed with comic sketches.

There is no question that the cabaret style structure of Sunset Bitch provides an excellent vehicle for Ms Martin's multiple talents, most memorably her comic impersonations of stars from the early talkies through to Barbara Streisand. The character's British mother is a wonderfully clipped-toned Julie Andrews and, just in case you missed it, the witty if sparse script includes a self-mocking reference to being a nanny.

The songs are an eclectic selection from across the twentieth century: the beautiful 'I Don't Wanna Walk Without You' (Jule Styne/Frank Loesser), 'My Own Best Friend' from Kander and Ebb's Cabaret and a few others are sung straight, providing a rest from the comic numbers which culminate in Jessica Martin playing Veronique Raymond impersonating Ethel Merman singing 'Tell Me It's Not True' from Blood Brothers.

Sunset Bitch is a musical theatre fan's idea of a fun night out and it helps if you are of a certain age too, otherwise what is a Busby Berkeley Girl and just who is the oft-referenced Shelley Winters? However, if you are neither the right age nor a fan you can at least relish the fabulous piano playing of young Musical Director Léon Charles, only two years out of university.

Whilst the show fails to live up to its vitriol-promising title, plenty of names are dropped and who could have imagined that Ms Martin would provide us with a rendition of Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando in Uncle Vanya? Waterloo East's producer, Gerald Armin, aims to programme "unexpected, exciting and entertaining fare". With this first show, he has certainly done that.

"Sunset Bitch" is playing until 26 September. Performances from Tuesday-Saturday at 7.30pm, with Sunday matinées at 4pm.

See Simon Sladen's interview about the theatre with Gerald Armin.