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Review: They Call Her Natasha/Everyman

Good job Elvis has left the building

Published on February 28th 2011.


Review: They Call Her Natasha/Everyman

IT lifts its title from the line: “They call her Natasha but she looks like Elsie” in Elvis Costello's I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea.

The telling of the...story is uninteresting, badly staged, plotless and lacks any form of drama

But anyone expecting a biographical account of the life of Declan Patrick McManus, born in London but an adopted “scouser” (he moved to Birkenhead in 1971) will be a tad disappointed by this week's production at the Everyman.

Indeed, anyone expecting a pop-based offering, along the lines of Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You, to form a new piece of entertainment will also be left wanting.

The question is, if you put a pile of bricks in an art gallery, does that make it art? Likewise, if you string a collection of Elvis Costello tracks together, weave a wafer-thin narrative, have no real performance to speak of and put it into a theatre does that make it drama?

In both instances my answer is no.

Natasha or Elsie or Lou (let’s not talk identity crisis or schizophrenia) is a woman who sings Elvis Costello songs which are, in the context of her own life, comments on where and how she feels - in a journey which is a cracked mirror-image of the real Costello.

She has the same songs, the same jobs, moves to the same places, sacks the same people, exactly as her doppelganger, and the piece has a premise that is surely worth developing.

However, where it fails dramatically is… dramatically.

With such an amazing back catalogue to work with, ranging from his 1976 debut album, My Aim Is True, right through to All This Useless Beauty of 1996, the production has immense potential.

Tracks such as Accidents Will Happen, I Want You and Alison are included, but the telling of the Natasha / Elsie / Lou story is uninteresting, badly staged, plotless and lacks any form of drama, thus what could be a great show is little more than an uneventful superior karaoke.

The one redeeming element is singer-songwriter Lou Dalgleish, who also plays Elsie Costello.

Dalgleish provides fine vocals and, with husband Michael Weston King on guitar and the brilliant Gladstone Wilson on keyboard, all three offer an unusual evening which, if people were not familiar with Costello, will certainly encourage them to find out more.

The show, first staged at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, has had a successful tour and co-writers Dalgleish and King are on the road again.

The songs inform the clunky narration and vice versa, so a veiled Elvis Costello bio is pieced together with a variety of twists as Lou becomes Natasha who then becomes Elsie Costello who then becomes Natasha during the daytime and Elsie at night.

Confused?

As Costello’s lyrical vocabulary is broader than that of most popular songs, such a theatre piece was simply waiting to happen. Unfortunately Costello’s words are far smarter than the umbrella storyline they work within, which is a shame.

Had the narrative been performance rather than Jackanory then this piece could fly.

They Call Her Natasha is a credit to the writing genius of Costello, the musical talents of Dalgleish and co but, frankly, as a drama it’s “A Brilliant Mistake”

3 / 10 as a piece of theatre
7 / 10 as a music gig

They Call Her Natasha runs until Saturday Feb 26, Liverpool Everyman

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