Petula Clark at Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Petula Clark is the sort of entertainer who receives a standing ovation before she’s even done anything. As her silhouette walked onto stage the audience became ecstatic in her presence. When the light illuminated her figure, they stood up to profess their adoration and respect. This is the sort of treatment awarded to a performer who started her career in 1942 as a child performer – “Britain’s Shirley Temple” – and was a mascot for British soldiers fighting Fascism during the war, performed for Winston Churchill, danced with Fred Astaire, composed music with Charles Aznavour, and worked with Charlie Chaplin. Clark brings that gravitas of experience onto stage with her; as someone who has been around longer than rock‘n’roll, her two-hour set list becomes an encompassing journey into everything from pre-rock covers to electronic-tinged tracks from her latest album, From Now On.
The singer showed a lot of gusto throughout her performance, but it’s unfortunate that her fans couldn’t reciprocate the energy. With barely a foot-tap in sight and some reluctant clapping, Petula made the gaffe of assuming people wanted to join in on the singing. She seemed visibly thrown by such a staid and uninspired crowd and many of her interactions became awkward ramblings devoid of wit or humour. It was only when she got to Downtown that people showed a willingness to engage. Unfortunately, that was at the end of the concert. This led to an evening that felt a bit too polite and demure, filled some hits and some misses. Hit: a beautiful “Anglo-French” composition performed solo on piano and sung in French. Miss: Clark’s cover of The Beatles Blackbird, made awfully mawkish by the use of bird chirp sound effects in the theatre room.
Having said that, her extended anecdotes, in which she shamelessly name-drops everyone from George Lucas to Jimmy Page, were a delight to behold. Clark made self-deprecating jokes about her Irish musical film Finian’s Rainbow before performing some songs from the soundtrack in memory of Fred Astaire, and talked about Chaplin singing and dancing in jubilee before covering his This Is My Song. Naturally, the evening was streaked with nostalgia – there was a whole segment dedicated to how great the 60s were – and her many jokes at the expense of foreigners seemed to click with the pre-Globalisation members of the audience. This made her performance of Living for Today, despite some effective scolding of corrupt politicians, devoid of real meaning.
While Clark’s vocals showcase the sort of limitations you’d expect of an octogenarian singer, she displays no evidence of waning love for her craft. It’s great to see a woman with a wealth of experience still performing as steadfastly as this, but the overall concert lacked real emotional power or zest.
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