Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★
Based on the story of Jean Ross, said to be the inspiration for Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles of I Am a Camera and Cabaret fame, this one-woman show sees Sophie Jugé in a series of short scenes explore the life and times of this intriguing woman. She claims that speaking in three languages: English, German and French, became second nature when she fled to Berlin, having feigned pregnancy to get expelled from school. Her witty re-naming of her hometown to ‘Lederkopf’ (Leatherhead) helped her to ‘make friends’ quickly…
The short monologues are interspersed with live ‘cabaret’ moments – there are no fewer than 12 numbers in this 50 minute show. Backed by a three-piece jazz band, Jugé delivers with cabaret intensity and directness: a mask to hide behind. Her vibrato is pleasing, but it is her lower register that is superior – I would like to have heard more in a lower key. Of the songs, one is in French (’Je ne t’aime pas’) and one in Spanish (‘El Quinto Regimento’). If the Weill/Brecht ‘Alabama Song’ had been delivered at least partly in German, this would have added colour to the repertoire.
As the Muse for Isherwood and the lyricist, Eric Maschwitz, there is a bitterness in never being credited for being the inspiration to these two men. Yet this seems at odds with the lines of action Jugé has been given: caring for a baby in a pram; sitting at a dressing table mirror; hanging out laundry are rather passive and entirely domestic. There must be more to Jean Ross than this!
The book for the show could benefit from development – there is a leap to Jean Ross becoming an international journalist that could do with more exposition as to how she reached this place. Perhaps it is the lack of a masculine figure of some sort that leaves gaps in the piece: even a stylised male ‘figure’ who encapsulates the men in her life would have been interesting.
A show that leaves you wishing to find out more.