Theatre review: Waitress at New Wimbledon Theatre
- Credit: Johan Persson
Serving up a perfect slice of musical theatre at the New Wimbledon Theatre
As with many of our local theatres, the New Wimbledon has been dark for more than a year. But it is now back and back with a bang. Hosting a celebrity-filled gala opening (This Morning GP Dr Rang Singh, Stephanie Beecham, Faye Ripley, Emma Wills) for the multi-award winning Waitress, the beautiful auditorium was once again packed with punters all yearning for a slice of this heart-warming, life-affirming show.
The story centres on Jenna, the waitress of the title - her ability to make the most delicious pies; her struggles with her lazy, bullying husband; her friendships; and her longings - not just for the handsome new doctor who arrives in town but for a life where she can be who she really wants to be. Add to the mix a few rousing songs – one show-stopping number, some good ole southern sass, a dash of sentimentality, a sprinkling of imagination and you have the perfect recipe for a theatrical treat.
As Jenna, Lucie Jones, former X-Factor finalist-turned-West End favourite is a joy from beginning to end. No stranger to the role, having starred in the Adelphi Theatre production pre-pandemic, she brings not only a flawless vocal but a warmth and believability to what in many ways is an achingly predictable plot. Her co-workers Becky and Dawn are cut straight from any Hollywood presentation of southern diner gals - one wisecrackin’ and hard bitten, the other naïve and nervous – but thanks to masterful performances from Sandra Marvin and Evie Hoskins, the clichés can be side-stepped thanks to a torrent of talent and again, a warmth that seems to transcend the stage.
Once we are introduced to Jenna’s ne'er-do-well husband Earl (so well played by Tamlyn Henderson that he got a mix of boos and cheers when it came to the bows) and the abuse she suffers at his hand, the story takes a darker turn, fuelling our support for this hardworking woman. The audience is also firmly on her side when she sets her sights on the handsome and sensitive (but equally married) Dr Pomatter (played with aplomb by Matt Jay-Willis, member of pop band Busted-now an acclaimed-West End actor).
You could probably guess what happens next... there is a pie contest with a hefty prize fund, a grumpy but sick old man who will only be served by Jenna... the arrival of goofy, would-be poet who quickly develops a crush on one of the other waitresses... But this is musical theatre after all and the basic thread does not detract from the fact that this is a story of a struggle and in particular of female struggle, culminating in the magnificent, standout song from the show ‘She Used to Be Mine’, which Lucie Jones delivers with such searing vocal clarity that most of the audience rises to its feet at the final note.
Written by Sara Bareilles with a book by Jessie Nelson and directed by Diane Paulus, this show definitely puts the girls front and centre, but the male characters are well-drawn and equally trapped by their circumstances. The staging is simple yet effective and the whole cast and ensemble worked seamlessly – just as well as this was the first night of a 12-month tour that takes in most of the UK. If you get a chance to see it – take it – you will not be disappointed.
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