Scarlet Shambles: It Used to Be Me

Best described as cabaret with some clowning thrown in, Scarlet Shambles: It Used To Be Me is a delightful surprise. Performer Charmaine Wombwell is certainly talented, and wonderfully served by the acoustics in the Just the Tonic’s Caves. It’s chilly inside — so much so that I can see the fog off her breath as she sings her way through the audience and onto the stage — but the atmosphere is warm. She has a stunning voice and sings without amplification or even music, for the most part. There are a few songs where she plays the ukulele, and others underscored by her own feet, shuffling, smacking and stomping on the floor, which is very effective.

I know it’s not nice to laugh at someone crying, but Scarlet’s heartbroken sob-singing had me in stitches.

The subject matter of a young woman’s first few loves and heartbreaks isn’t particularly novel, but the presentation is, combining excellent physical enactments and some moments of direct address. Her facial expressions and miming skills are great – whether she’s performing an encounter between ex-lovers on public transport, or trying to resist the magnetic pull of The Sexiest Man Alive or emulating sitting in a storm, her fingernails drilling the sounds of rain into the stone of the stage.

Her clowning skills shine, finding gentle humour throughout. I know it’s not nice to laugh at someone crying, but Scarlet’s heartbroken sob-singing had me in stitches. There are no props, no sets, just her body and voice to tell the story and this works particularly well in the intimate space. I hope that, as the piece continues its development, it doesn’t outgrow this.

A highlight of the show is her enactment of that old ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ platitude, except here it’s apples on trees, and Scarlet has quite an appetite for a while, biting and chewing with her mouth full. Wombwell’s original songs, which carry much of the narrative content, are lovely, and her voice is elastic. Her Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong impressions are also worth a listen. Wombwell has created a character that is endearing, funny, and full of humanity.

Reviews by Emma Gibson

theSpace @ Venue45

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill

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The Blurb

Having survived the catastrophic pile-up of her love life, Scarlet sings darkly comic tales of falling hard, for anyone who's been unlucky in love – or wants to laugh at someone who is. Scarlet Shambles is the creation of musician and performer Charmaine Wombwell, who trained in physical theatre at LISPA. Her work is influenced by the dark clown, love, music and the hilarious desperation of heartbreak. Credits include Vertebra Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre, Champion of the World (Film4), and she is the voice of Aimee in Magic Hands (CBeebies).