Claudia Shear’s “Dirty Blonde” is a wonderful, irreverent play about the bawdy Mae West, the star who said of herself, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted”. Mae West was the original girl-power starlet who had no interest in being the nice girl next door that clean shaven well mannered young men would want to take home to meet their mother.
We learn that Mae, especially in her early days, deliberately set out to scandalise. Two plays she wrote in the late 1920’s, “Sex” which contained endless sexual innuendos and later “The Drag” - in which she filled the stage with outrageous camp gay men - fell fowl of the authorities, but this was precisely her intention. As she later said of her phenomenal success, “Censorship made me”.
The story of Mae West is told through the eyes of two fan’s Jo (Claudia Shear) - an out of work actress and general odd-ball and Charlie - shy film archivist, who first meet at Mae West’s mausoleum, where they have gone to commemorate the star’s birthday. Their infatuation with Mae West draws these two non-conformists together and as their friendship blossoms into romance we discover why each find strength and a strange solace from their mutual obsession with Mae West.
Claudia Shear metamorphoses on stage from blowsy fan Jo, into peroxide blond Mae West, complete with corset, diamonds and feathers. Though maybe a bit stouter then Mae West, Shear has the sexy strut and brazen appearance that allows you to see past her wider girth to the flirtatious sexual starlet who seeks to entertain with her larger than life personality and saucy tongue. Shear never fails to entertain and is a sheer joy.
Kevin Chamberlin is immensely likeable and blithe, with his sardonic self-demeaning smile he thoroughly entertains as Charlie the man who is obsessed with Mae West and her costumes. He also creates a number of memorable comical cameo roles, especially as the inebriated W C Fields. Equally entertaining is Bob Stillman who plays a host of characters, from outrageous camp queens, to film star extras.
Shear never falls into the mistake of idolising her on-screen icon Mae West, but instead makes sure that this platinum haired silver screen idol always remains a dirty blonde.
What other critics had to say.....
NICK CURTIS for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Charming enough and perfectly well crafted." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "A delightful, funny and touching entertainment." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "An affectionate tribute." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Combines showbiz razzmatazz with real heart." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Shear successfully replicates the truculent swagger, the drawling innuendo, the rolling truckdriver’s walk, but isn’t, well, sexy or sensuous enough."