One-person musicals are rare; Tell Me on a Sunday is perhaps the only well-known example of a commercially successful one-woman musical, and that is only one act. Ewen Moore’s new musical, Battersea Bardot, is thus ambitious; it is a one-woman musical in two acts, chronicling the life of troubled British actor Carol White. White first made it in comedies with the likes of the Carry On crew and Peter Sellers, but had a second acting career in the late sixties in the work of Ken Loach. Her personal life, however, was marred by addiction and abuse, and it is these problems that take centre stage in this production.

What we are given is a bit of a mixed bag. Ewen Moore’s score is undoubtedly the highlight; like the thematically similar Sunset Boulevard, his music balances catchy songs with recurrent haunting motifs and even a touch of nostalgic pastiche. The score is enough to make one long for a bigger space than a studio theatre; the orchestration for Gabrielle Ball’s piano and Annie Hodgson’s cello is lovely, but this is a score which could really thrive on a fuller sound in a bigger space. The score and book, both written by Moore, sit a little unsteadily with one another, and might benefit from more underscoring, which whenever present helped to transition between song and speech as well as heighten the most powerful moments of spoken word. Alex Forey’s lighting design also deserves particular praise for simple yet effective design that provides some of the most striking visuals in the show.

Yet despite these strengths, the production as a whole feels like a misfire. Elizabeth Huskisson’s direction seems unsure of itself; from the beginning, it is unclear whether White is singing to the audience, to herself, or to the man she is waiting for a call from, and this lack of direction continues throughout the show. A one-person show can become repetitive without a clear concept or an urgency of storytelling, and this production has neither. Perhaps as a result, Anne Rabbitt’s performance as White feels rudderless, and with only one actor to follow, the audience therefore struggles to emotionally connect to the material.

This is a musical which definitely has a life beyond this studio run, but it feels hamstrung by its production, which does not seem to know what it wants to be. Moore’s score is a diamond in the rough of a confused production, and I hope to see it in another form in the future.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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