NIALL ADAMS reviews the London premiere of ‘Buyer and Cellar’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Walking into the Menier, I am greeted with the sound of Barbara Streisand’s greatest hits-cum-soundtrack to ‘Funny Girl’ as the audience is invited into her surreal microcosmic world. Here, a basement can be converted into a boutique shopping mall to house Streisand’s collections of antiques, clothes and gift wrap. Bizarrely, this is not the dream of a playwright, but taken from her own guide to interior design (for just £35 on Amazon, you too can have your own personal mall).
Jonathon Tolins takes one of the strangest anecdotes from the rich and famous, creating a hilarious and touching play. Alex More (Michael Urie) is an out of work actor, recently fired from Disneyland, and offered the chance to work as an assistant in Streisand’s cellar. The ensuing relationship between the pair explores the nature of fame, the stage, and our own personal utopias.
Tolins’ script is ingenious throughout. Alex’s monologue is ceaselessly throwing jokes at the audience. I’d recommend seeing the play twice as many were simply drowned out by laughter. Tolins’ remains careful to avoid veering too close to mocking the star whilst satirising her eccentricities, with a brief introduction by Urie (out of character) stressing the artificiality of her portrayal in the play. As the monologue progresses, though the humour remains, the script becomes increasingly poignant as both star and employee become isolated from the outside world and the futility of the materialist dream emerges at the core of the play.
Urie, reprising his Drama Desk award-winning role from Broadway, is terrific. From the moment he steps on stage to the close of the play, he has boundless energy and brilliant comic timing. Bouncing from playing Alex to impersonations of the supporting characters, he is magnetic throughout, adeptly handling the demands of this meaty one-man show. Although he falters a little in some of the more emotional moments of the play, he’s on track to win just as many awards in London as on Broadway with this exhilarating performance.
A word of warning for those heading to see the play (as everyone should be!): the humour rests entirely on the allusions made to Streisand’s career and the wider Broadway world. Undoubtedly, even those unfamiliar with both will find the performance witty and comical; but, unless you have some knowledge of Barbara’s life and know your Judy from your Liza, some of the references may pass you by.
‘Buyer and Cellar’ is the next in the Menier’s long line of wonderful productions. With a clever script and a star-turn from Urie, the play is a comedic tour-de-force not to be missed. ‘Buyer and Cellar’ will play at The Menier Chocolate Factory until 2nd May 2015.
Image credited to Joan Marcus.