An Audience with Shurl

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Patrick Sykes

at 10:20 on 23rd Aug 2011

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Initially, I found Sue Schilperoort’s Shurl is a charming Welsh storyteller, who shares a selection of often touchingly particular anecdotes, ranging from the way that as a child she learned all the war songs listening through the door of her granny’s outdoor toilet, to the discovery of a local girl’s brutal murder. This didn’t last, however, and the Shurl I ended up with was a barmy, struggling singer, who has an obsession for Shirley Bassey bordering on the deranged, and takes the wide-eyed innocence of youth a little too seriously, her preference for not blinking wavering between the eager eyes of a child and a genuine medical condition.

We meet Shurl in her dressing room, which apparently, rather than the stage, is where she usually gives ‘an audience’, complete with a live band of course. That said, the way that she walks around in a three-quarters-removed face pack, filing her nails, and wiggling her toes as she tells you her life story does give it a welcome sincerity. The bad wig didn’t add so much in this respect.

What lets this performance down for me is an incongruity between a sensitive script and insensitive production. Schilperoort moves awkwardly when recreating the scenes she paints, and tends to raise and animate her voice to extremes that felt unsuited to the touching memories she recalls. This is of course a difficult balance to get right in any one-man or one-woman performance, when everything hinges on the individual, but Schilperoort fails to make the most of the intimacy of the venue. Nor does her band, the Zugswang Jazz Duo, do her any favours here. What might have been poignant moments, with all eyes on a Shurl on the brink of tears, were interrupted by what came across as a frankly random series of cymbal and drum rolls, and guitar lines that suggested a renegade sleuth rather than ‘our girl from the valleys’. Their moment to shine is Shurl’s Rio bossa nova, but I worry I cannot forgive her insistence on performing this in a sombrero.

An Audience With Shurl offers forty-five minutes of beautifully rolled ‘r’, and a heart-warming story, but its potential unfortunately fails to come across in performance, due to production that jars with itself and inadvertently complicates its charm.

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Lise McNally

at 11:37 on 23rd Aug 2011

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An Audience with Shurl is a production with undeniable heart. And, appropriately enough for a show which hails from the valleys of Wales, it is a heart filled with a love for sound and story. A gorgeously plotted piece which is likeable, laudable and affecting, it is well worth indulging the script's occasional flaw as if smiling at an old friend.

Which is exactly what Shurl (Sue Schilperoort) will become. This one woman show sees the Shirley Bassey wannabe welcome us into her dressing-room and into her past. Her highly personal account of growing up in Wales is punctuated by snatches of music and song, as nostalgia, comedy and tragedy unite in this unpolished but still rather marvellous script. The methods of revelation are particularly masterful and varied, as births and deaths blur into the sporadic and vivid impressions of childhood.

Taking full possession of her stage, Sue Schilperoort’s Shurl is chatty and commendably natural. In particular, those scenes when she portrays her very young self are brilliantly delivered, with the adamant and staccato syntax peculiar to children. She maintains this childlike quality to her speech even once the story has moved into adolescence. However, far from being a failing, this near-naivety creates a moving discrepancy between Shurl’s emotional development and what she must learn to cope with. The pram scene especially is perfectly pitched, sad and sweet and beautiful all at once.

Adult Shurl’s adventures in Rio are the scripts low point. Most notably, the meeting with Shirley Bassey, surely an epoch in her life, is understated perhaps to a fault. However, having seen her energetic abilities elsewhere, we might attribute this lull to the performer’s evidentaly sore throat, which was bravely battled throughout the show.

Certainly it is not a performance to suit every taste. However, if you are ready to listen, this is storytelling at its very best. The pacing and sound quality of the production are simply stunning. Music and soft lighting create a captivating and strangely hypnotic ambiance, which is cemented by Schilperoort’s amazing vocal ability. Her voice, redolent of valley forests and fireside chats, is wholly irresistible. As a result, it is hard not to be amused and moved by what is undeniable a heartfelt and committed performance.

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