If the thought of a night in listening to Céline Dion ditties and occasional cries for more melodrama has you checking for the exits, Sophie Walsh-Harrington’s Damsel In Shining Armour may not be your idea of a perfect evening. Regardless, stay seated: you won’t regret it.
At a superficial level, this is a show that merrily bounces along with tales of increasingly bizarre love affairs soundtracked by sung snatches from the French/Canadian diva’s discography. It would be easy to categorise Damsel as a jukebox musical penned by Helen Fielding while Glee played in the background. Easy, but wrong.
While the eponymous damsel’s tale trots the globe from one end to the other, Walsh-Harrington’s character is very much a reflection of her Harrogate origins. For those not familiar with the town, it is (in)famously both very posh and very kinky. Although not rich herself, the damsel has the preposing confidence, charm and charisma of the overly moneyed while her eyes are perpetually peeled for the next chance of romance, occasionally amongst the audience.
The show’s kink is matched by its kook. A ballgag, hand and foot restraints and a pair of puppets all make an appearance. Walsh-Harrington punctuates different episodes by throwing her long brown locks around with the determined vigour of an Olympic athlete throwing a hammer or by repeating her mantra: “one must create melodrama in one’s life.” Essentially, the damsel posits that melodrama is medicine for not just life’s downs but also its periods of inertia and ennui.
Her character may be in armour but Walsh-Harrington also brings a considerable arsenal to the party. Despite being a Pom, she walked away with Adelaide Fringe’s Best Cabaret Award in 2011 and it’s not hard to see how. Her singing voice is strong, emotive and does absolutely no disservice to Dion’s numbers. Her experience shines through in her honed comic timing. There’s a breathtaking fluency in the way that she switches between crooning and storytelling, injecting passion and tension into a tale which veers often from farce to pathos and back again.
Still undecided about spending an hour in the company of the damsel? Don’t think twice. She’ll be appearing at Madame Jojo’s this Sunday as part of Finger In The Pie’s sixth anniversery celebration.
The Damsel in Shining Armour. Performed by Sophie Walsh-Harrington. St James Theatre, London SW1E 5JA. http://damselsophie.com//
Photograph provided by the artist.