I was reading an article a few days ago about how the fastest growing independent TV channel during the pandemic has been Talking Pictures TV which has been steadily increasing its audience share across a number of years. Largely consisting of TV shows and British made films from the 1960s and before, it is heavy on nostalgia and appeals to those who recall, or wish to recall, a simpler age. While this has also led to some occasions where content has been pilloried for being politically and socially incorrect there is an equal body of opinion which wouldn’t have it any other way. It conjures up the days when there were limited channels, a recognised body of stars who largely kept their private life private and laughter wasn’t fuelled by spite or general nastiness.
One of the faces you might see on the channel regularly belongs to Dora Bryan (indeed, Dora Bryan Day was held on there in 2019). The life and times of this all round entertainer also forms the latest of the Sunday nostalgia sessions being held as part of the Footprints Festival at Jermyn Street Theatre (earlier incarnations have celebrated Joyce Grenfell and Flanders and Swann). It’s a canny move on the part of the theatre who can tap into the same demographic as Talking Pictures TV and judging by the audience applause for Adorable Dora they are more than ready to enjoy harking back to a bygone era. There is almost something of the “tribute” show about these outings as the performers recreate the magic of these often unassuming British stars and it is West End diva Rosemary Ashe who brings La Bryan to life. It’s not so much an accurate impersonation (though the voice particularly is very good) as it is an embodiment of ditzy Dora’s on stage/screen persona. Ashe treats us to comic songs about show biz life including a less well remembered number by Noel Coward and what are we to make of the monstrosity that is “All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle”? Also recreated are some of her famous numbers from Hello Dolly and Gypsy and additionally there’s a reminder that she could do serious too as a monologue from her starring role in A Taste Of Honey is given due prominence.
We are also given biographical insight into Bryan’s life which was rather more tragic than I might have supposed. The repeated bouts of depression, the miscarriages, the attempts to self-medicate with alcohol, the car accidents, the eventual bankruptcy – all sit uneasily with the happy go lucky public persona which we think we remember. She did, however, have a loving stable marriage which no doubt helped her to keep on working well into her 80s appearing in more recent TV fare such as Last Of The Summer Wine, Victoria Wood’s DinnerLadies and Absolutely Fabulous; not, for reasons which I couldn’t quite work out, that these are featured.
Ashe is accompanied onstage by Paul Knight who plays the piano and fills in with the odd sentence or two as other relevant characters from Bryan’s life. Occasionally the two sing together but it is Ashe’s show both as performer and credited writer (though clearly much of the material came from other sources) and is played out with almost no set and only a rudimentary costume change into a red plastic mac which we are told seemed to be a regular feature of the early films in which the actress appeared as a selection of “barmaids and tarts”. Throughout the show Ashe threatens to recreate Bryan’s party piece of doing the splits (Bryan could still do them in her 70s); this forms a running gag which eventually pays off (sort of). It’s all highly engaging and pleasantly endearing throwing a spotlight onto a performer who it would be easy to forget. Just like a warm blanket on a cold rainy Sunday afternoon and a packet of Werther’s Originals this show is aimed at a particular audience and passes the time in an unthreatening and unhurried celebration of this talented woman. Even though there are no further outings for the show at Jermyn Street, you can still catch up with it live at the Brighton Fringe and at the Pheasantry in London during the rest of the summer – dates and details here.
Adorable Dora had a limited online run of just two shows yesterday so is no longer available (see above)
The full programme for the Footprints Festival at Jermyn Street Theatre is here
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