Jonathan Tolins’ sharp and successful one-man play is easy to enjoy. Using the extravagance of celebrity to look at fandom and fame in equal measure, this super smart script is full of knowing jokes that should guarantee constant laughter.
Stars don’t get much brighter than Barbra Streisand and to base a fiction around her home life means there’s more than enough material for an hour and half show. It helps to know about her career, but Tolins’ writing is strong enough for anyone to find the show funny.
Director Andrew Beckett appreciates the variety of humour he has to work with and the show’s pacing is effective: there’s the boredom of out-of-work actor Alex’s job in Streisand’s basement (it’s even weirder than it sounds) punctuated by moments of elation when he gets to meet ‘her’.
For all its merits, the production doesn’t quite match the show’s previous London outing at the Menier. The performer here is Adam Sidwell, who does well but doesn’t manage to land all the jokes. Sidwell is careful to stay on the right side of impersonation when delivering Streisand’s lines and good when taking on the role of his boss Sharon. But scenes where he also performs as Alex’s boyfriend aren’t so successful: the couple’s speculation on Streisand – which Tolins develops nicely – flip flops without the required finesse.
Streisand is always going to be more interesting than Alex. But shouldn’t we root for him a little more? Nonetheless, it is easy to share Alex’s escapism in Buyer and Cellar. And… nice; we could all do with something different nowadays and a comedy is good programming. Given their sturdy work, I for one have no wish to rain on Sidwell and Beckett’s parade.
Until 8 November 2020
It’s a pretty crazy premise: a man working alone in a shopping mall created by Barbra Streisand underneath her home. But hold on – the bit about the shops, designed to hold Streisand’s various collections, is true. Jonathan Tolins’ award-winning one man play, Buyer and Cellar, overflows with jokes that arise from this bizarre scenario, while serving as a tremendous vehicle for Michael Urie, as out-of-work actor Alex, giving one of the most endearing performances you’re likely to see.
Alex’s meeting with Streisand, who Urie also plays, makes for an enchanting fiction. Stephen Brackett’s direction carefully preserves a spontaneous feel that makes Alex so personable. His mix of wry humour and naïve enthusiasm goes to the heart of a play very much about cynicism. There are great one-liners, slow-burning gags and plenty of observations about gay life. With a Jewish mother joke as well, of course.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any camper, Alex starts to coach Streisand for a new film version of Gypsy. And if the casting strikes you as impractical as quickly as it does Alex’s boyfriend (another character Urie conveys impressively), then this is the play for you.
Buyer and Cellar works hard to be more than an extended comedy sketch: looking at the nature of celebrity and questions of self-worth. There’s a West Coast wisdom behind a lot of the jokes that stays with you. It has to be admitted that a knowledge of Streisand, a Yiddish dictionary and familiarity with LA helps – but even without these (believe it or not) I roared with laughter. How Tolins manages to take so many swipes at his icon without the piece feeling mean, while cleverly using Streisand’s status to create his own art, makes his play unique and somehow quite magical. He’s a mensch.
Until 2 May 2015
Photo by Joan Marcus