Friday, 13 April 2012

Reviews- theatre

The fairy tale that is Susan Boyle’s life story is now unfolding, to music, on stage

Written by Georgina Brown

georgina-brown 2805I have a guilty secret: every now and then I watch Susan Boyle's fi rst audition for Britain's Got Talent on YouTube. I'm not responsible for all 88,525,668 viewings (last count), but for at least a dozen. The truth is I can't resist a real-life fairy tale.

For anyone who has lived under a large stone for the past three years, on 11 April 2009, a dumpy grizzle-haired frump named Susan Boyle from a little village in West Lothian, looking much older than her 47 years, tottered on to the stage of a television talent show. She had said goodbye to her waist decades ago but not to her dream of being the next Elaine Paige. The audience snorted with derision.

Then she sang I Dreamed A Dream, from Les Mis, and her voice, so strong and heartfelt, astounded. Judges Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden were in tears. A beaming Simon Cowell claimed he knew she was something special the moment he saw her. An astonished and yet astonishingly poised Boyle lapped up her ovation. Weeks later her debut album was the fastest-selling EVER.

Scottish actor Elaine C Smith was on stage at the time, in a production of Calendar Girls. When she came off she was told about this wee woman from Scotland who had brought the house down. 'I'll end up playing her in the story of her life,' she joked.

Not just playing her. She also wrote the musical, I Dreamed A Dream – finding pop songs, folk songs and hymns to illustrate episodes from Susan's life: the bullying at school, the media onslaught following her success, the subsequent breakdown. Joy Is The Child, sing Susan's Catholic parents, having been told to expect little of the baby deprived of oxygen at birth. Her miner dad could 'stop the room' with his singing, and does so with Scarlet Ribbons sung for his wee Susan. While the rest of Britain was going Beatles mad, the Boyles were still rocking happily to Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves.

Doting dad possibly gets it wrong when he shuts the door in the face of his daughter's boyfriend and Susan sings Janis Ian's desperately sad lovesong At Seventeen. But then, had things been different, would she ever have applied to appear in a talent show for 'freaks, weirdos and oddballs' as one neighbour describes BGT? Smith captures the famous wiggle as well as the gaucheness to a tee. As she explains, Susan isn't very good at expressing herself (remember how we all winced when she stumbled on the word 'village' in her audition). She gets upset easily and quickly, but this, says Smith, is how she'd tell her tale if she could. Staged against a bank of telly-screens – the medium that made Susan Boyle – it is very simply but effectively done.

However, the high point comes at the very end when the cast has taken its bows and vanished, and Susan Boyle herself appears and she – and we – relive her dream for real. Of course, her hair has been whooshed and her make-up is perfect, but there she is, singing from the heart, making us gasp in astonishment, cry with joy. A dream come true.

I Dreamed a Dream is on tour nationwide until 13 October 2012

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