An Old Fashioned Girl

It’s a dangerous move to end your fringe show with a cover of Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? as you run the risk of audiences leaving with that very question ringing in their heads. Yet Kluane Saunders has no such fears, rounding out An Old Fashioned Girl at the Warren with a triumphant rendition of the classic song, confident in the nostalgic simplicity of her show.

Soft oohs and murmuring from the audience as each song began confirmed the nostalgic appeal of these golden oldies

Saunders plays Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Turner, a venerable BBC broadcaster who is being interviewed about her life on an episode of Desert Island Discs. Liz was one of those smooth-voiced women who benefited from the introduction of female voices on the airwaves post-World War II. A talented singer, she was plucked from obscurity busking on the streets of London by BBC radio producer Paul Peterson and spent the ensuing decades working in a variety of roles at Broadcasting House, eventually ending up as the presenter for Woman’s Hour.

The play takes the comfortingly familiar form of an episode of Desert Island Discs, with Liz retelling the story of her life and interspersing these reminiscences and reflections with songs. Unlike a typical edition of the radio programme, however, all of these songs are performed live. Saunders, a classically-trained soprano, is adept at mimicking the vocal style of the 40s and 50s. Musically, this show is accomplished, with Richard Mann’s dextrous guitar-playing and melancholic harmonica complementing Jordan Clarke’s keyboards. Soft ‘oohs’ and murmuring from the audience as each song began confirmed the nostalgic appeal of these “golden oldies”, and a rousing rendition of Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line, complete with authentic skiffle washboard, brought the house down.

This is all pleasant enough but, unfortunately, An Old Fashioned Girl doesn’t illuminate anything particularly surprising about the era it portrays. There are nods to covert sexuality and violence against women, but treated so fleetingly that they have limited impact. A love triangle involving Liz, her rough-and-ready boyfriend John, and the Svengali-like Peterson feels rather perfunctory and clichéd in its beats. This a resolutely old-fashioned show, which sometimes works in its favour, yet which left me indeed wondering, is that all there is?

Reviews by Catherine O'Sullivan

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The Blurb

Be transported back to 1950s London, when radio was king - live music, hit songs, forgotten gems, love and laughter. A well-known broadcaster and singer is a guest on Desert Island Discs. As she shares her records with radio listeners, the audience becomes privy to the true story of her rise to fame.