Theatre Review: Looking for Lansbury – St. James Theatre, London

Looking for Lansbury

Fiona Jane Weston pays tribute to Dame Angela Lansbury in new one-woman show

Like many film and theatre fans, I have grown up watching Dame Angela Lansbury. From AUNTIE MAME to MURDER SHE WROTE, Lansbury has graced our stage and screens for over 60 years. No surprise then that Fiona Jane Weston decided to make this remarkable woman the focus of her new one-woman show.

Coinciding with Dame Angela Lansbury’s 90th birthday, LOOKING FOR LANSBURY is a celebratory investigation into the life and work of one of our best loved actresses and musical performers. The innovative two-hour show sees Weston cleverly merge snippets from exclusive interviews and memoirs with live renditions of well-known songs to tell the fascinating untold story of the iconic actress, all with a little help from the Jessica Fletcher Appreciation Society.

The first half of the show sees Weston look back at Lansbury’s childhood and the influences in her formative years, both by her actress mother, West End beauty Moyna Magill, and her politician grandfather George Lansbury, who was imprisoned for his support of the Suffragettes.  Weston’s flair for advanced historical research comes into its own here as she delivers authentic Suffragette speeches, quotes from media coverage and songs such as EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES and MARCH OF THE WOMEN.

What makes LOOKING FOR LANSBURY so special is way Weston immerses herself into the role, effortlessly switching between narrator and character. Weston delivers intriguing nuggets of information, sometimes using Angela Lansbury’s real words, in both a clever and engaging way. She also uses song as a vehicle to tell stories and explore the emotions and motivations of a character. Her performance of A TASTE OF HONEY is one example of this, resulting in a rousing applause from the audience.

The most popular part of the show is, unsurprisingly, the section in which Weston discusses Lansbury’s most famous roles, belting out well-known classics from DEAR WORLD, GYPSY, SWEENEY TODD and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Her hilarious impersonation of the opening titles of MURDER SHE WROTE has the audience in stitches and her enthusiasm and for Lansbury’s roles in MAME and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS had the audience singing along.

Whilst there is plenty to love about LOOKING FOR LANSBURY I was disappointed to find that Lansbury’s later career, her role in MRS SANTA CLAUS and her recent stint as Madame Arcati in BLITHE SPIRIT for example, is brushed over at the end. Weston spends a lot of time recounting early events, such as Lansbury’s grandfather’s involvement in the Suffragettes, but barely touches on Lansbury’s later roles, which is a shame as these are as equally interesting. The intimate setting of the studio in St James’ Theatre also restricted some of the dance pieces Weston incorporated into the show, making them feel a little out-of-place and disjointed.

That said, LOOKING FOR LANSBURY is certainly entertaining and well worth a watch, particularly if you’re a fan of Lansbury. An innovative and enjoyable show about the life and career of one of our best loved actresses.

4 out of 5 stars

LOOKING FOR LANSBURY tours until 5 December 2015 with performances in Suffolk, Broadstairs, London, West Yorkshire and Cheltenham.