Review: Entertaining Victoria Wood stage comedy revival at Sheffield Crucible

The revival of a Victoria Wood comedy about the unglamorous reality of the showbusiness dream at the Crucible Theatre is enjoyable without really catching fire.
The cast of Talent at the Crucible Theatre, SheffieldThe cast of Talent at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
The cast of Talent at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Victoria wrote Talent in 1978 for the Sheffield theatre as an up-and-coming writer who knew all about the talent shows she had so recently appeared in herself. It was seen in the Crucible Studio that year with Victoria playing the role of Maureen.

A friend of mine who saw the original show remembers laughing uproariously at Victoria and loving her performance.

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The show is set in a dingy 1970s dressing room backstage at northern nightclub Bunters, where aspiring singer Julie and her friend Maureen start with high hopes for Julie that a talent competition will propel her towards her dream of appearing on TV in New Faces or Opportunity Knocks and escaping her humdrum life in an imagined glitzy world of stardom.

Reality is nothing like her dreams – she encounters an ex-boyfriend working in the club who brings back some unwanted memories, a sexually predatory compere and older performers still doing the rounds.

The toilets are unusable, a backing musician can’t play and the contest is rigged by the club owner to promote the star he manages.

This is all visualised in the opening number, where a cheesy club singer performs on a stage draped in glittery cloth which is whisked away at the end of the number to show the grotty reality underneath.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie star Lucie Shorthouse is endearing but not fully into her stride as Julie, chatting nervously and smoking Players No6 while knocking back the Babycham as she gets ready for her big moment.

It becomes clear she fantasises about her life, claiming her boyfriend Dave sent roses and a big good luck card when a phone call reveals he’s forgotten what she’s doing and is entertaining other girls at home.

Victoria Wood gave herself perhaps the better role and songs as sidekick Maureen, beautifully brought to life by Jamie-Rose Monk. She reveals herself as a naive and sexually inexperienced homebody bemoaning her ‘big bones’ who is so used to watching from the sidelines that she is easily flattered into considering the compere’s invitation to join him in his white Cortina, minus pantygirdle.

Early Doors actor James Quinn is spot on as a jolly middle-aged magician and Richard Cant is mesmerisingly eccentric as his friend, Arthur.

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Jonathon Ojinnaka gives an entertaining performance as Julie’s ex-boyfriend Mel and Daniel Crossley is both convincingly creepy as the compere and great as the singer of the opening song.

It is always going to be hard to create an atmosphere with a socially-distanced, scattered audience watching wearing masks but the cast, directed by Paul Foster, all give good performances without quite pulling out all the stops to bring out the maximum laughs from a very clever script.

Janet Bird’s design is wonderfully evocative, from Julie’s Charlie’s Angel’s flicked-back hairdo to the tatty set.

Talent is at the Crucible until July 24 and there is a live stream on July 7. Box office:

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