Janie Dee and Friends – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Janie Dee performed at the St James Theatre Studio as part of the London Festival of Cabaret

Janie Dee and Friends performed at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of the London Festival of Cabaret

Janie Dee and Friends at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.

Star rating: 3 stars ★ ★ ★

The candlelit beauty of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was the perfect setting for double Olivier Award-winning actress and singer Janie Dee’s Jacobean cabaret, one of the highlights of the second week of the London Festival of Cabaret.

This third annual Festival, masterminded by Neil Marcus, has brought no fewer than 26 acts, all very different, to many familiar venues around the capital such as Crazy Coqs, St James Studio and The Pheasantry, but this was its first collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe.

Packed to the rafters, this was a Sunday evening of infinite variety with the ever-popular Dee going from barefoot and shorts in Act I to (almost) full Elizabeth I regalia after the interval, all the while linking her songs to Shakespearean themes.

She has such a winning way with her, stroking a few bald pates and sitting on some lucky devil’s lap, that the odd iffy note is quickly forgotten. Truth to tell, I have heard her sing better – the late-night hour she did early last year at The Pheasantry was absolutely electric – so maybe this in-demand workaholic is taking on too much.

Songs like ‘Far Away Places’ and ‘Gypsy in My Soul’ tied in with Dee’s tales of touring Shakespeare around the world and the little-known ‘Fear No More’ from The Frogs, with Stephen Sondheim writing the music to lyrics taken from Act II of Cymbeline, could not have been more fitting given the surroundings.

The ‘And Friends’ was also impressive with Juliet Stevenson, a serious actress but no mean singer, Kit Hesketh-Harvey (of Kit and McConnel fame) as witty as ever, and Steffan Donnelly, who played Flute to Dee’s Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Globe’s Asia/Russia tour, joining in Dee’s revels.

An unusual item was the four-girl recorder group Block4, ex-students of the Royal College of Music, with their contemporary spin on mediaeval and renaissance music. Who knew how different the soprano and contra-bass recorder look and sound?

Stevenson brought the show to a moving climax in a very acceptable version of ‘The Rose’, the Amanda McBroom classic Bette Midler turned into a mega-hit, with Dee joining in at the end.

Of course, the audience weren’t allowed home scot-free and we had to air our tonsils for that old part-song ‘Summer is Icumen In’ with the right half of the auditorium leading off and the left coming in on cue.

Musical director Ben Atkinson provided some lovely piano work, most notably on the Johnny Mathis hit ‘I Get Misty Just Holding Your Hand’, in an evening that was full of surprises.

Jeremy Chapman

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