As a singer incapable of a hackneyed interpretation, Barb Jungr‘s gift to turn a lyric on its head is used to good effect in her recent show Mad About the Boy – And No Regret at Soho Theatre’s cabaret space. A headline act at the London Festival of Cabaret, this homage to love bears all the hallmarks of Jungr’s unique style – spiky, poignant and never sentimental.
Aptly titled, the songs run the gamut of all things love-related, from the early days of giddy infatuation to the bittersweet ending of a life changing affair. Opening with Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, and brilliantly accompanied on the piano by long-time collaborator, Simon Wallace, Jungr offers a masterclass in vocal technique, injecting warmth and self-deprecating humour between songs to create a narrative arc that still manages to feel organic and spontaneous.
London Festival of Cabaret is billed as a celebration of the Great American and European Song book, but as ever Jungr veers towards the unusual, with a haunting version of Jacque Brel’s Marieke and an English translation of No Regrets that’s like hearing it for the first time. She lends her soulful, bluesy tone to Ray Charles’ vengeance song, Your Cheatin’ Heart, turning up the heat in Streisand’s Women in Love to create a strident, torch bearing ballad that becomes a sustained cry of anguish.
Described by Julian Clary as a ‘one woman enema and not for the faint hearted’, Jungr is a no messing kind of singer. She gets to the heart of the song and the lyric with a fierce emotional intelligence and humanity that demands you sit up and take notice. For an artist with such a loyal and high profile following, it was a shame to see so many empty seats last Thursday, begging the question, how well has the festival been promoted for those artists, who unlike Elaine Paige, don’t have their own radio show to plug their latest appearances?
Soho Downstairs, the theatre’s newest space, is aimed at the comedy and cabaret circuit and seats a maximum of 150. With its plush red curtains and dedicated bar, it is a welcome addition to the burgeoning number of intimate venues now available in the West End, however the plastic chairs are uncomfortable, noisy and not easy on the eye. Even wooden bistro chairs would have created a more authentic atmosphere and, although it’s a small point, it does affect the overall aesthetic in what is otherwise an attractive venue.
This aside, this is a show worth revelling in for the breadth of Jungr’s emotional vocabulary. Accompanying herself on the harmonica for a joyous and uplifting version of Take Me to the River, she quickly takes the audience to a more introspective place with Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep. Only a brave artist would choose Cohen for an encore and Jungr pulls it off with aplomb, proving yet again why she is critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Mad About the Boy – And No Regret. Soho Theatre, London W1D 3NE. 24 October 2013. www.barbjungr.com