Anne Reid In a New Key, at the Crazy Coqs, London.
Electrocuted as Valerie Barlow in Coronation Street in 1971, Dinnerladied by Victoria Wood in 1998, kit off as a daring 66-year-old who beds a pre-Bond Daniel Craig in The Mother in 2003 and wooed by Derek Jacobi in last autumn’s wonderful TV series Last Tango In Halifax, Anne Reid has plenty of anecdotes in her memory bank for her new part-time career as a cabaret performer.
Taking her Anne Reid In A New Key show to the Crazy Coqs for five sold-out days that she first road-tested at the St James Theatre Studio in Victoria in November, this remarkably versatile lady gives us 20 of her favourite songs, linked by some terrific stories. The latter cover everything from being taken “to the pictures” by her mum growing up in Newcastle and being flown to India by a very roundabout route, through a career as a jobbing actress until that life-changing and rather shocking lead in The Mother for which she was Bafta-nominated, to the day she “froze’ in front of the Queen after doing a scene from Romeo and Juliet at Buckingham Palace.
She yearned to do cabaret ever since becoming obsessed by Barbara Cook when she saw the legendary American musical theatre star perform in London in 1986. As an introduction to Sondheim’s ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’, a great song feelingly sung, Reid conceded that she wished she had had “the bottle to do cabaret 30 years ago when I was young”.
Always a keen singer, she has a little musical theatre in her back story, notably playing Jack’s Mother during a two-week run of Sondheim’s Into The Woods at the Royal Opera House and Juno in Cole Porter’s Out of This World at the Chichester Festival. But, of course, she has hitherto been far better known as an actress “with a pan in my hand rather than the glamorous roles I dreamed about when I entered this business”.
Now she is making up for lost time, and while her voice is not the strongest, the art of cabaret is less the voice, more the act, the quality of the storytelling, the ability to get the audience onside straight away, the intimacy of the occasion and the choice of material. This is where Reid scores heavily.
In a small room like Crazy Coqs, her lack of power is neither here nor there, most of the songs she performs call on her superb acting skills as much as her sweet, small voice, especially those humorous ones that light up this delightful hour and a half. Songs such as ’Robert the Robot’ from Hermione Gingold’s catalogue, the hilarious ‘Pour Le Sport’, Sondheim’s take on a rich woman’s dalliance with golf in the south of France, and ‘Gentleman Friend’, from the little-remembered 1948 Richard Lewine/Arnold Horwitt musical Make Mine Manhattan, shows us Reid at her best.
And it was great to hear her do Amanda McBroom’s moving ‘Errol Flynn’, while at the same time giving that superb West Coast singer/songwriter a plug for her upcoming visit to the Crazy Coqs.
From Billy Joel to Cy Coleman, from Sondheim to Hamlisch, from McBroom to Reid’s heartfelt encore, Frank Loesser’s ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ from Guys and Dolls, Miss Reid MBE gave us an evening of song and story to relish – yes, and glamour too, because there is a sparkle and wickedness in her eye that defies the passing of time.
There is nothing like a Dame, the song says, and while she may be a late arrival at top table, if there is any justice at all, she will be our next one.