The ‘Leading Ladies’ Cabaret, celebrating the third birthday (party hats included) of the Hope Mill Theatre, was a triumph. The concept, of four women who had previously held lead theatrical roles singing songs from musicals, was nothing groundbreaking. But it did not claim to be, nor did it need to be. In fact, its somewhat unrehearsed simplicity is what gave the production its charm.
A set of four red velvet chairs, a piano in the corner, and a floor scattered with various top hats and feather boas helped to create a nostalgic theatrical atmosphere. However, the real focal point of the piece was its four leading ladies: Laura Harrison, Sarah Louise Young, Shekinah McFarlane and Genevieve Nicole. Each performer offered something unique, in their voice and even more, in their personality.
Before every song the performer shared a memory of performing, the inspiration for their chosen song or in the case of Nicole and Young, a dry showbiz themed witticism. These personal anecdotes, such as Harrison’s amusing tale of crashing headfirst in to a pillar during a rehearsal exercise, made me feel as if I was spending time with a group of (extremely talented) friends rather than watching a production. An especially touching moment was when Nicole dedicated her beautiful rendition of ‘No One But You’ to a friend who had sadly taken her own life the previous year.
McFarlane was a standout performer. She had a voice that you could feel in your soul particularly during her performance of Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. However the highlight of the production was the dynamic of the four women together. Their voices complemented each other’s beautifully, making each of their group songs a joy to hear. They energetically encouraged one another, gasping and cheering from the back of the stage as a fellow performer belted out a particularly difficult note.
The production served as a touching reminder of the power of a supportive group of women and its necessity within an industry that offers female performers fewer opportunities than their male counterparts. The audience was wittily reminded of this reality before the cast performed a medley of iconic male solos.
Although the show could have been more slick and accompanied by more complex choreography, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It was funny, charming and showcased the talent of some incredible leading ladies. On leaving the theatre I wanted to sing all the way home, however I doubt that the 142 bus would be quite as appreciative as the audience at Hope Mill.