It’s a dangerous move to end your fringe show with a cover of Peggy Lee’s
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?