God Bless The Child — The Dukes Theatre

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh

Billie Holiday is one of the most iconic figures of 20th century music, the story of her life as potent as her music.  As such dramatised settings of her songs in a biographical context are nothing new.  I saw one at the Edinburgh Festival in around 1991 that was most impressive.

God Bless the Child: An Evening with Billy Holiday takes a standard format, the jazz club, table and piano around which the actress  narrates and performs her songs.  The focus is therefore mostly on the songs, and that, for me, was a flaw tonight.  Katrina Beckford is a talented performer with a fine voice, but it is not remotely Billie-like.  There’s a line in the play, supposedly a quote from the era, that ‘Ella Fitzgerald swings it, Billie Holiday lives it’ and if that’s the case then Beckford is far more Ella than Billie.  Billie hada thin, cracking voice, characteristically lagging behind the beat rather than belting out showstoppers.

The story itself is flawed too, seemingly taken from Holiday’s own often inaccurate account, and highly sentimentalised.  (It seems the nature of such shows and biopics to either sensationalise or sentimentalise.)  Her account of singing ‘Strange Fruit’ with Abel Meeropol is generally known to be made up, for instance.  The tragedy of Billie’s life was pretty much glossed over, and described rather than shown.  Beckford’s Billie was sassy, flirty yet coy, and all too sober in a way that didn’t sit with what was being suggested.

That’s a shame because Katrina Beckford sang and acted well, in her own way, and the show was well-paced in itself.  It just lacked grit and realism to be really Billie Holiday, and instead was just a pleasant evening of nice jazz singing.

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One Response

  1. I look forward to the libretto of your stab at this tricky topic, Kev. 😉

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