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Talent

Victoria Wood
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Theatre

Daniel Crossley as the Compere in Talent Credit: Chris Saunders
Jamie-Rose Monk, James Quinn and Richard Cant in Talent Credit: Chris Saunders
Jonathan Ojinnaka and Lucie Shorthouse in Talent Credit: Chris Saunders

It is a pleasure to be reunited with Victoria Wood's wit in a revival of her first stage play which was commissioned for the Crucible Studio in 1978 and followed by a meteoric career writing for theatre and TV and many successful stand up and acting performances.

The audience is initially presented with a gleaming gold silk set covering which is soon whisked off to reveal the mundane green room of a shoddy provincial cabaret club. The image provides a metaphor for the action that follows.

Any dreams of a brilliant career in show business are soon thwarted by a grimmer reality. Julie (Lucie Shorthouse) has arrived with her supportive but rather simple friend Maureen (Jamie-Rose Monk) to compete in a talent competition. Julie is nervous and desperately needs a toilet she can't find, so the initial comic business provides a solution to this dilemma. Wood's customary wide-eyed and deceptively innocent use of language releases the 'lavatory' humour of the situation.

A succession of characters pass through the green room. Julie encounters the personable but irresponsible Mel (Jonathon Ojinnaka) who seduced and abandoned her when she was an impressionable teenager, too keen to impress her schoolmates by riding in his smart car. Mel expresses no regret or apology. It would have embarrassed him to then stand by her when she was pregnant and might have affected his career as an entrepreneur. This theme of exploitation is returned to later in the action.

The next couple to pass through the green room are seasoned comedians and entertainers accustomed to sleazy venues on the comedy circuit. George (James Quinn) and younger sidekick Arthur (Richard Cant) still take pleasure in their entertainment routines, surprising their audiences with sleight of hand card tricks and other magic. Their enthusiasm is undiminished.

The girls' final encounter is with the ageing, cynical compère of the show (Daniel Crossley) who is a manipulative sexual predator. He promises to smooth Julie's path to success and offers Maureen 20 minutes in the back of his car. It has taken a long time for women in show business to speak out against this kind of exploitation so it is impressive to see Wood dealing with this through the medium of comedy and with a light touch as early as 1978.

It is entirely characteristic of Wood's dramatic and song writing that she uses humour as a sharp and ironic barb in all sorts of contexts. In this early play, a serious topic is explored but her irrepressible sense of humour shines through in witty dialogue and delightful song lyrics.

The small, masked audience was well spaced out in the large Crucible Theatre, so responses were appreciated but muted. Jamie-Rose Monk is particularly effective in replicating Wood's local accent, apparent innocence and style of delivery and Daniel Crossley is convincingly objectionable as the obnoxious compère.

It is important that the Crucible is continuing to champion artists at the beginning of their careers. At a difficult time for anyone involved in the theatre industry, Victoria Wood stands out as an example of what can be achieved when new talent is supported.

Reviewer: Velda Harris