Life is a cabaret, old chum; come to the cabaret! Toulouse Lautrec, a restaurant and jazz bar, is the perfect setting for Temporarily Misplaced Production’s production of Better Than Sex: a cabaret based on the life and works of Mae West.
Vaudeville and old Hollywood actress Mae West – a woman who used her sexuality to forge a career. 15th in the American Film Institute’s Greatest Female Stars Of All Time; West had Roxy Hart-esque beginnings when, after vaudeville, she wrote and performed her 1926 play Sex – which caused enough outrage to get her arrested. From here, she began to turn everything seemingly risque on its head – as the arrest only feeded her humour and encouraged her popularity. West went on to continue to write and perform: eventually, getting signed by Paramount Pictures. By 1935, she became the highest paid women in the USA, with her witty one liners earning her adoration from the public – despite scathing remarks from critics.
Bella Bevan plays the role of West, and my is Bevan one to watch! Bevan’s voice slides skilfully around West’s famous jazz numbers; with her performance of A Guy What Takes His Time, a particular stand out. Bevan playfully interacts the audience, and commands the stage – just as West once did. The songs are short but sweet; giving way to the telling of West’s life story and to her infamous one liners – delivered with comedic precision by Bevan.
Bevan truly takes you back to old Hollywood glamour and nails the old school New York accent. At times, the accent can mean a couple of words get missed, but otherwise Bevan delivers. Kieran Stallard accompanies Bevan’s performance on piano, and his involvement in the piece helps to immerse you into the cabaret world. Bevan and Stallard work cohesively together, with neither missing a beat.
The fact that Better than Sex was a one night only performance is such a shame, as it was a unique hour of entertainment. Hopefully this production has an encore: as Better Than Sex truly transports you back in time and shows you that Mae West was ‘more than sex’, a woman born before her time.