Tuesday, 21 February 2023

REVIEW: Sister Act at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

When I saw this production at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo in August 2022 with an all-star cast including Jennifer Saunders, Keala Settle and Beverley Knight it was a glitzy star-driven show with ticket prices up to £250 to justify and while enjoyable I noted that the show was designed for the UK Tour to follow and would represent much better value in regional venues around the UK. The tour arrived at the New Victoria Woking this week with a full house on a Monday night with a top price of £62 and proved that it is a wonderful feel-good party night out. The tour will now continue until April 2024 with 24 more venues to visit so there are plenty of opportunities to get a party together to go and enjoy the show.

The Hammersmith cast largely continues on the tour with Lesley Joseph stepping up as Mother Superior to replace Jennifer Saunders, Sandra Marvin moving from alternate Deloris Van Cartier to replace Beverley Knight and Catherine Millsom stepping up as Sister Mary Patrick to replace Keala Settle. Overall, the band and ensemble are reduced to make it more economical to tour but the show still delivers a fun, nostalgic and uplifting night out and is no less enjoyable despite the absence of the headline stars.

Clive Rowe continues as the friendly cop Eddie Souther, Steady Eddie to his friends, and is an absolute joy with his fine voice and lovely comic touch, you instantly warm to his personality, and he really shines in “I could be that guy”. The criminals he seeks to arrest are Curtis Jackson played with a strong seventies vibe by Jeremy Secomb and supported by a hilarious trio of gangsters played by Bradley Judge, Tom Hopcroft, and Damian Buhagiar. They are great together in “When I find my baby” and then really ham it up in “Lady in the long black dress”. They transported us back to those seventies discos in their look and moves, great fun and provided some of the show highlights.

Lesley Joseph is wonderful as Mother Superior demonstrating all her brilliant comic timing and delivering her songs with great poignancy, charm and a touch of humour. Her stage experience shines through, and her natural stage presence holds you spellbound as she slowly melts in her acceptance of Deloris who the show revolves around. Sandra Marvin may not have the charisma of Beverley Knight as the would-be cabaret singer and gangster’s moll Deloris Van Cartier, but she steadily blossoms on stage as her character develops and is a triumph by the end of Act two. She delivers a succession of powerful soulful seventies tunes from her first appearance with “Take me to heaven” and “Fabulous, Baby” through to the show-defining “Sister Act” and the uplifting “Raise your voice”. 

The Ensemble of Nuns work exceptionally well in transforming from dreadful singers into an impressive gospel choir with strong characterisations throughout. Anne Smith has a good cameo as the rapping conductor Mary Lazarus and Lizzie Bea continues as the delightful innocent postulant Mary Robert with a wonderful version of “The Life I never led” exploring her self-doubt. Catherine Millsom plays Mary Patrick at her fearsome best swinging incense bottles on chains in the final battle. The loss of three Ensemble members from the cast for the tour does make the stage look occasionally half-filled for the big musical numbers but the joyous energy of them in the dance numbers is infectious and brings a smile to the audience.

The Production is slickly staged and lit with flown panels with built-in lights, enough architecture to suggest the interior of the Nunnery and simple settings for the Police station, Eddie’s spare bedroom or a local bar. The stage does look empty at times, but it leaves plenty of space for the set-piece routines. Director Bill Buckhurst and choreographer Alistair David ensure the pace is maintained and there are some lovely touches like the chase of the rickshaw, Souther’s quick costume change and the final gunfight in the convent. The Finale costumes by Morgan Large are a gloriously glittering rainbow twist to the usual nun’s habit that naturally brings the show to a celebratory conclusion.

This is a fun musical with a diverse cast of all sizes and backgrounds that blend together into a full-blown ensemble production that entertains and gradually emotionally engages you. Still, most of all it is simply a joy to watch. Definitely a show to see when it visits your City over the next year.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row F | Price of Ticket: £62

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