Review by Daz Gale
You simply have to look at the many reviews for The Mill at Sonning on this website to discover why it has become one of my favourite theatres to visit throughout the year and more than worth the short train journey from London. While I may be more used to going there for plays and musicals, it felt right that I went along for this concert called ‘Dazzling Divas’ given the name of the website. But was this new show a sparkly delight or would it be like choking on a piece of glitter?
Dazzling Divas sees Issy van Randwyck explore the lives and legacies of seven legendary performers: Billie Holliday, Marilyn Monroe, Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass, Karen Carpenter and Dusty Springfield. All markedly different in their output, the common threads between them are the influence they had and continue to have decades later, and the tragic fact they all passed before their time.
Each of the seven divas is given their own segment of the show, around 15 minutes where their lives and careers are re-enacted through song and narrative with four songs from each of their legendary songbooks brilliantly recreated. There are no huge bells and whistles here, no big outfit changes (the odd prop added on in the first act aside) but these are not needed. The show is about Issy and her ability to transform herself into seven very different women.
Issy van Randwyck is a stunning vocalist and gets ample opportunity to showcase the versatility in her voice. Never quite feeling like an impersonation, more so an extension of her own voice tailored to the performer she has become, she creates a tribute that feels quite different in its approach. Her versatility is particularly impressive as act one veers from the soft and sweet Marilyn Monroe to a contrasting performance as Patsy Cline and ending the first act with a rousing and rocking Janis Joplin in what was my personal favourite of the evening. Perhaps there was a slight level of inconsistency into how well her interpretations landed with her Billie Holliday failing to connect as well as the other six.
It's fair to say Dazzling Divas features a wonderful dose of classic songs with 28 of them making up the show. Highlights from Issy’s performance include a beautiful take on Mama Cass’ ‘make Your Own Kind Of Music’, Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ and a truly sensational turn as Karen Carpenter, particularly on the numbers ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’ and ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’. Backed with a fantastic four-piece band who came alive on numbers such as Janis Joplin’s timeless ‘Piece Of My Heart’, the evening was a feast of musical delights, culminating with a feel-good singalong of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’.
Dialogue intersperses the songs and not just in-between different numbers but frequently interrupting songs midway through. This is where Dazzling Divas loses its shine a bit, with the writing struggling to match the quality level of the singing. Issy reverts back and forth from her natural accent, connecting the artists to her own story and history, while then adopting an accent to imagine what the artist she is portraying might say. All the while she gives a brief history lesson, charting some of the struggles each singer had and what led to their sad passing. The back and forth of this did come across slightly jarring with the material itself not feeling as strong as it could have been. I would have liked to have seen this tightened up somewhat, though it is worth acknowledging this was the first night of the run here at The Mill at Sonning, so this may improve as the run continues.
Trips to The Mill at Sonning are always more than simply the show itself. A gorgeous dinner theatre, the two course meal you enjoy before the show never waivers in its quality (I could do a separate review for the food alone, it’s that good. If you go, definitely taste their famous pie). It’s picturesque setting is beautiful at any time of year, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of their Hollywood A-Lister neighbour. Any night at The Mill at Sonning is guaranteed to be a great experience – that hasn’t ever faltered.
Issy van Randwyck is a remarkable talent, as demonstrated repeatedly through the two hours she was on stage. Showcasing amazing versatility, bundles of charm and a whole lot of talent, she captured the audiences attention and kept them in the palm of her hand. Dazzling Divas is an interesting show in itself with some real highs to be had. I personally would have liked a little bit more consistency and perhaps some of the spoken dialogue could have been improved, but this was still a highly enjoyable show that was both a fitting tribute to these seven legends and Issy herself, who truly shone on that stage.
Dazzling Divas plays at The Mill at Sonning until 20th July. Tickets from https://millatsonning.com
Photos by Andrea Lambis