Review by Daz Gale
For one night only, the Duchess Theatre, usually home to The Play That Goes Wrong, became “The Double Act That Goes Wrong” (their words, not mine) as Liza Pulman and Joe Stilgoe pulled up in the West End as part of their joint tour A Couple Of Swells. Having caught Liza in her most recent solo show The Heart Of It earlier this year but being a virgin to Joe Stilgoes own performances, I was unsure how this one would fare. Could this continue the glowing review I wrote for Liza earlier this year or would it only get a couple of stars?
For the past 30 years, Liza Pulman has made a name for herself with performances encompassing music, theatre and comedy. She is perhaps best known as being one third of Fascinating Aida. Here, she finds a new partner in crime in Joe Stilgoe – an internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and pianist. With this first joint venture, they hope to be reminiscent of previously great theatrical pairings and on paper it really does sound like a musical match made in heaven.
While the pair may contrast in terms of their own performance, they also have a lot of similarities creating an interesting blend. With a great love for classic songs from The Great American Songbook, they also both have an uncanny knack for injecting a dose of humour into the mix with the two resembling a highly polished double act for the times they share the stage.
The setlist contains a versatile mix of numbers from the likes of Irving Berlin, Billy Joel and Frank Loesser. Managing to pay a great tribute to such classic songs with their own inimitable talents, they are also brought bang up to date with some contemporary twists making them appeal to a wider audience that spans across the generations. Musical highlights included a rendition of ‘Don’t Rain On Your Parade’, the joyful and rousing opener ‘I Love A Piano’ and a brilliantly funny version of Randy Newmans ‘Short People’.
There were also a smattering of original numbers, courtesy of the wildly talented Joe Stilgoe. Early number ‘Harmony’ created a perfect opportunity for him and Liza to explain their aim for the show and exhibit their undeniable chemistry as a pair, while a solo performance of Stilgoes ‘Seaside’ was a highlight of the night. As well as exceptional piano playing and being able to make a whole array of interesting noises, a testament to Joes talent came after he asked the audience for requests,,, leading to an impromptu medley of songs ranging from Duran Duran, ‘Piano Man’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Nellie The Elephant’.If that sounds weird, you’re not wrong, but it was also pretty impressive and flawlessly segued together, truly showcasing his genius as a performer.
As I discovered at her solo show earlier this year, Liza Pulman is truly a gifted performer with the most sensational voice. With a timeless quality to her tone and a truly warm and charming nature, it feels like she has been plucked from another era but is refreshingly unique in her approach, managing to simultaneously feel like a tried and tested comfort while bringing something new to each interpretation. While her solo show featured a lot more storytelling and a seamless energy making the audience feel like they were being spoken to personally, this show was all about the dynamic she had with Stilgoe, creating something quite different from her own show while still falling in her own safe wheelhouse.
The chemistry Pulman and Stilgoe had together is second to none. Their first performance together, a cover of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ for Liza’s recent album, was a favourite to witness and showed just how well the pair work together. The moments one performed without the other, as impressive as they both are in their own right, had me longing for the next time they would interact. Their banter, humour and Stilgoes ability to make Pulman laugh mid-song creating a joyful and infectious performance full of love.
Liza Pulman and Joe Stilgoe are two exceptional performers in their own right, both with their own legions of fans and impressive accolades to boast. However, together they are unstoppable. Going up a level in terms of performance, it felt like I was witnessing the birth of something special. The rapport they have with each other seemed to only go to make them both perform even better than before. Stunning vocals and impeccable talent lends itself perfectly to an eclectic but always beautiful setlist. Pulman and Stilgoe may well go on to become the Ant and Dec of theatre. There was nothing wrong about this double act whatsoever. Actually, it was pretty swell.
A Couple Of Swells plays several more dates around the UK this month. Dates and tickets at www.lizaandjoe.com