By Jerome Studdy
Nigella Lawson is a fascinating topic, and a figure who holds very specific places in the minds of the public. Amongst the busty baking and curvy cooking, we know Nigella to be sensual, provocative, and relatable. However, it's unlikely that we've ever heard her sing; and after watching Raelene Isbester's one woman musical take on the life and love of Nigella Lawson, it's a little clearer why this may be the case.
Nigella - Love Bites is a short-form musical journey through the treats, tabloids, tears, and tarts that make up the history of British kitchen goddess, Nigella Lawson. Comedian, Raelene Isbester assumes the role of Nigella to give a glimpse into a hypothesised version of the cook's personal life. Isbester's impersonation of Lawson is quite good. Starting with a cleverly selected dress to show off the right features, and a luscious head of brunette locks, Isbester definitely looks the part. She also nails Lawson's signature flounce, and tackles a number of hallmarks and idiosyncrasies that make up the Nigella brand. Unfortunately, where the performance loses some credibility is the voice and accent. Isbester is rather fluid in her approach to the British accent, and regularly loses the crisp, plum-in-cheek Nigella tone.
Where the performance does start to unravel is in the music. The music is simple, and nothing ground-breaking. The samba style of piano pairs very nicely with the theme of Nigella in the kitchen, however, the moment Isbester begins to sing, the entire illusion of the poised, flirtatious Lawson is lost. Isbester herself is a very talented singer. Her belt is impressive, her control of tone and dynamics is good, and she's incredibly comfortable with a riff, but the voice we hear is undoubtedly the voice of Isbester. It's very difficult to imagine Nigella belting, riffing, or growling into bluesy notes. In fact, it's very difficult to imagine Nigella singing at all, and perhaps this is where we stumble upon one of the bigger flaws in the show. Is a musical really the best way to investigate the life of Nigella? It definitely provides Isbester with a remarkable opportunity to sing a genuine and raw tribute to Nigella's late first husband, but it needs some refining to make the remainder of the show a success.
On the whole, the show was quite fun. The tiny kitchen and edible props all helped the plot along nicely. Some troubles of the show came with the tech. The lighting states were aggressively saturated and much too harsh for the cast of one. The chunky head-microphone also lead the audience to wonder if Isbester was being amplified or about to start a teleconference. Unfortunately, Isbester was also let down by her accompanist. The detail of the score was not matched by the talent of the pianist, and it left every song with some sort of fumble or a nightmare page turn.
Overall, the show could use some more rehearsal, some refining of staging, and a solid hit from an editing team. Despite all of this, I did enjoy the show. If you're looking for something a bit cheeky at Bondi Beach, skip the scantily clad bathers and grab a scoop of something. . . Delicious.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.