Xara Vaughan – Jermyn Street Theatre

Xara Vaughan performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Xara Vaughan performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Xara Vaughan performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London.

As well as star names such as Maria Friedman, David Bedella and Barb Jungr, the second London Festival of Cabaret has given opportunities over the last three weeks for emerging talents to showcase their potential.

Xara Vaughan’s second Monday night at the Jermyn Street Theatre came into the latter category and this tall Londoner with the androgynous looks of a young Tilda Swinton can certainly sing.

Sadly, that alone is not enough for a compelling cabaret act and a bare 50 minutes (including the encore) is not enough either for people travelling from out of town to see her and expected to pay £19 on top of their fares and the time involved for the privilege.

Appearance and voice are striking and in five-inch heels, short shift dress and with her unusual looks, Vaughan does have an imposing stage presence, so it is pity we get to learn so little about her.

That is surprising since she has had a far-from-ordinary life, from ordination in a Nepalese nunnery to topless dancing at Stringfellows in a try-everything youth, but there is little humour or anecdote in her quiet, rather nervous patter.

A late starter as a cabaret performer, she was encouraged by her great actress friend Anita Dobson (who was in the audience) to learn a craft she had never considered before and, at this early stage of her career (she’s 35), there is understandably still plenty left to work on.

Yet she has a lovely throatiness to her vocals which comes into full effect in two well-arranged modern ballads, Coldplay’s ‘Fix It’ and ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ (Keane).

And when she delves into well-worn stuff such as Noel Coward’s ‘If Love Were All’, Jacques Brel’s ‘Carousel’ (heard no doubt when she visited Crazy Coqs to hear Amanda McBroom, who she greatly admires) and Kander and Ebb’s ‘Cabaret’, she does not let the material down, even throwing a lovely Cockney spin into that saucy line about Elsie renting it by the hour in Chelsea.

‘After the Rain’, which Richard Hawley wrote for Shirley Bassey’s 2009 album The Performance, and ‘We Had a Dream’, a fine song from Cy Coleman’s 1997 Broadway show The Life, are other interesting numbers to which this expressive singer gives an individual touch.

The programme should create a greater impression than it does, but with an audience of only 20 it is hard work, even though every assistance is given by a wonderful accompanist in Jude Obermuller.

This Royal College of Music graduate is only 23, yet has already written an opera and a number of songs, one of which, ‘That Face’, Vaughan included in her set and to which she did full justice. He is every bit a name to watch as the lady he is making look as good as possible.

Jeremy Chapman

Readers may also be interested in:

David Bedella & Friends – St James Theatre Studio – Review

Fascinating Aida – Charm Offensive – St James Theatre – Review

Julie Atherton – Tempting Fate – St James Theatre Studio – Review

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