Kathleen Turner - Finding My Voice
The Other Palace, London SW1 until 6 May and then national tour
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Information & tickets
Anyone who saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit will never forget the breathy purr of Kathleen Turner's Jessica Rabbit when she intoned "Oh I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way".
Now Hollywood royalty, Turner became an overnight star with Body Heat in 1981, her voice has always been her calling card. If she lived in this country she'd steal all of Miriam Margolyes' voice-over jobs.
After three successful outings in plays in the West End she has chosen to return with a more personal project, an autobiographical cabaret which is staged at The Other Palace. This venue of course has a perfectly proportioned cabaret studio but Ms Turner has been put in the Main House, where she can pack them in. This is cabaret gone 'Up West' therefore, cabaret with a set, albeit a superfluous one.
Under the expert guidance of MD Mark Janas on piano (backed up with Jonny Gee on bass and Jonathan Preiss on guitar) she takes us through her fascinating life story interspersed with a clutch of Great American Songbook numbers, such as 'Let's Fall in Love', 'Where or When', 'Since I Fell for You', etc. One strained at times to find the connection with the material but in any case these songs always replay multiple hearings.
On opening night, whether it was a nagging cold or nerves or both, she fluffed cues and made a shaky start and it wasn't really until Act 2 before she finally relaxed into the material. This was a pity because she's a pro who knows how to engage an audience and she has an actor's ear for interpreting a lyric. Part of her recent story of course has been her valiant struggle with Rheumatoid Arthritis, the condition and the treatment for which has changed her physically to the point of nearly crippling her, but also left its mark on her breathing. The breathiness here I fear is not always artful. Many of the songs too are not always a good fit, with people as usual underestimating how difficult it is to sing these seemingly simple standards.
She brings together the personal and the political however in a very engaging evening and she comes across as a lively, no-nonsense, figure. She never really fitted in to Hollywood and because of her meteoric rise was spared the worst of the casting couch traumas which befell so many others, as we learned about with #MeToo.
A committed Democrat, she is a vigorous campaigner for various causes including freedom of speech, meals-on- wheels services and especially now for the beleaguered Planned Parenthood organisation. She even delivered a poignant new song about the latter.
She has a way with anecdotes and they are piled high here, great stories of her climb, battling the forces of type casting along the way and recounting encounters with the likes of Baryshnikov, Maggie Smith, Francis Ford Coppola and even a curt Kensington & Chelsea Environmental Health officer – who defeated her totally when she had a pigeon infestation in her South Ken flat.
She had a peripatetic childhood of course as her father was in the US Foreign Service and this has informed her global outlook. She wittily described the culture shock of being relocated as a teenager from London to Springfield Missouri, where she proudly started singing ‘God Save the Queen' on hearing her teacher start up the tune of 'My Country, Tis of Thee' on the piano. That didn't end well.
Theatre has been her lifeline and she now repays this by giving masterclasses at drama schools and universities wherever she performs. For fans this will be a great opportunity to celebrate her, but at 2hrs 20, which is long for cabaret, this could do with some pruning.