It must be tremendous fun for a female performer to go the full Marie Lloyd – belting out music hall classics in satisfyingly broad Cockney and equally massive hat – and her presence looms large in this entertaining one woman(ish) show.
Denise Kennedy was Bella Burge, an East End girl who was all but adopted by Lloyd as a young girl and became her assistant while learning the craft of her own act, which never reached the heights of her mentor. Her boxer husband was jailed just three weeks after their wedding for his part in a bank fraud. Upon his release nine years later, the pair dedicated themselves to opening a boxing venue, and Bella became a promoter, running the place even after his death.
With little but a chest of props and a few costume rails Kennedy weaved a captivating tale, addressing the audience as Burge but segueing into other characters, including the charismatic Lloyd, as required. Projections on to the open chest were a nice touch, in the black box space, but maybe just a tad too small to make an impact.
Kennedy was accompanied by Andrew Frizell as musical director, who occasionally jumped centre stage to join in a number or act as a foil. The piece excelled when at its most light hearted; Kennedy and Frizell worked well to create a superb energy and there was a real sense of joy and fun in a physical scene to convey Burge’s inspiration to move into the world of boxing. The drama of the club’s wartime demise was inventive and moving.