Monday, 9 March 2015

REVIEW - Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant, Unicorn Theatre


THINK of a famous recruiting sergeant and most people will think of the posters of Lord Kitchener and his clarion cry Join Your Country's Army.
However for the Unicorn Theatre it means Vesta Tilley, a woman whose father was a performer on the stage and whose footsteps she wanted to follow.
And that she did, first treading the boards aged six. She stayed in the music halls for most of her life and was one of the country’s most famous cross dressing artists.
Her life is charted in a new musical play Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant, by Joy Wilkinson.
We follow Tilley from her first steps on the iconic music hall stage with her father, to her honing and perfecting her own act before going it alone as the cross-dressing Vesta Tilley, Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant.
Throughout her career she was a shining star of the music halls whose act as a male impersonator made her famous and loved the world over.
She was clearly a good businesswoman, determined and inventive too – at the height of her fame she was earning £1,000 a week and supporting her family – and constantly thinking of new ways to keep her act fresh and engaging.
However things begin to falter when war breaks out and Vesta uses her act to recruit soldiers to fight for King and country.
Eventually it forces her to think about her act and whether she is using her power and influence for good or propaganda.
The piece is more of a biography than anything else more deep and meaningful, and with not much of an explanation as to what made Vesta and her act so popular which is a shame.
However the play is engaging and enjoyable.
The cast of four - Mia Soteriou as the older Vesta, Tom Espiner as her father and husband, Caleb Frederick as the solider who falls for her and Emily Wachter as Vesta - are fabulous and Lee Lyford’s direction is simple and effective.
It is a great production, aimed at those aged eight and over, of a fascinating story.

Britain’s Best Recruiting Sergeant is on at the Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street until March 15. Tickets cost from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.

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