Angel to Vampire! at St James Studio, London.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Studio spaces, like the immaculately presented compact and bijou basement at the St James Theatre, can be a double-edged sword – creating an instant fruitful intimacy for performers when things go well, but also placing them under a audience’s unrelenting close inspection.
Their close proximity allows for very few lapses and Nigel Osner did wilt under that pressure on occasion. Thankfully, he had both the experience and dogged determination to survive a few hiccups during his hour long, one-man show, Angel to Vampire! (directed by Janine Wood).
A self-confessed warts-and-all exposé focusing on ‘my lifetime of yearnings’, for the most part it may be excessively self-indulgent, but it’s also witty, sad and quite engaging.
The musical numbers vary in quality, but thankfully any dud song is more than compensated for by a genuinely original, amusing ditty, like the hilarious ‘A Restful Love Affair’ (Tom Wakeley/Mole).
Being accompanied on piano by Wakeley, an experienced musical director and arranger, gives essential, solid support without which this production may have flagged.
When he is in his element, delivering some deliciously barbed lyrics and lines from his stories, Osner’s face literally lights up and it’s a genuine joy to see him revel in being onstage.
He certainly has an innate sense of the dramatic too, pulling on a pair of angel wings as the rebellious Archangel Gabriel, then inserting some gruesome gnashers as a very camp vampire, before lunging for an audience member’s jugular.
Once a practising barrister, given this performance, the case for his defence as an actor lies in his flexibility, natural wit and effortless charm.
The prosecution would maybe point to an unsettling nervousness that you wouldn’t really expect from someone so experienced on the Fringe circuit.
The show is a patchwork quilt of pathos, pain and pleasure, and with the various scenarios played out and characters created being a little hit and miss, it’s Osner as a performer and as a clearly complex human that interests the most.
He may sprout a pair of angel wings mid-show, but there’s definitely a devilish, maverick side to him, one you sense he has to keep in check.
‘Seize the Day’ is a fine, upbeat number on which to finish – Osner’s steely determination to entertain is writ large across his face from the first line he delivers to the last note he sings. As an audience member, you cannot ask for anything more from an actor than that.