Through the darkness of a subterranean music bar, in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, glimmers a gem of theatrical history. Colleague of Vivien Leigh, rejecter of Elvis Presley and a woman whose show once outsold Liza Minnelli at Westchester Theatre; it is the extraordinary life of Broadway veteran Joan Shepard, and it is yours to hear for free.
‘I’ve never been in the movies!’ she exclaims, her raspy tones and timpani like intonations betraying her years of stage training. From this opening line to her final bow Joan Shepard is every inch the performer: witty, engaging and clearly revelling in what must now be the very familiar glow of the spotlight.
Using a combination of photographs, spoken word and musical interludes, she guides the audience through her unorthodox career; one peppered with a hearty dollop of drag and a particularly flexible birth date. It is a show filled with humour and joy that allows the audience to bask in the warmth of nostalgia for a more glamorous era. Her voice might not be what it once was, and her body is paying the price for a life on stage, but the backstage pass to Hollywood parties and theatrical rehearsals that this one woman show affords the audience is priceless.
I’d like to challenge the rather modest title of this piece and note ‘confessions’ is entirely the wrong word: a life so unusual should not be confessed, but rather exclaimed at every opportunity. I know if my life had been half as interesting, I would never shut up about it. Now in her seventieth year as a performer Ms Shepard shows no signs of stopping; her steely determination to keep working, combined with the obvious pleasure she still takes in performing, will ensure that this autobiographical gig isn’t the epilogue to her career. Her last line rings out across the room: “I’m going to be in Hansel and Gretal at Christmas, just try and stop me!” – I defy anyone to take up that challenge.