A gentle, low-key musical exploring the relationship between jazz stars Billie Holiday and Lester Young, My Friend Lester offers an hour of soulful music against a story of struggling love.
A very enjoyable piece of theatre with the added privilege of offering beautiful music by talented musicians, a sure-fire success in any Holiday fan’s eyes.
The show was structured around performances of Holiday’s songs bookended by monologues and short dialogues between the characters. No song was out of place and the story’s circular narrative tied the piece up cleverly by the end. However, the show is undoubtedly geared towards those with prior knowledge of Holiday’s life and music; the approach they took towards her extremely troubled life was also perhaps a little too sweet, leaving the you less affected than you could have been.
The intimate Dukebox Theatre lent itself well to the intimacy of the story itself. The simplistic set piece – just a black dress and white gloves on a hanger – meant that your focus was entirely on the faultless music, which was arguably the most important element in both the story and Holiday and Young’s lives. Beautiful and melancholic, real-life couple Maria McAteer and Bjorn Dahlberg offered great renditions of Billie Holiday’s songs, showcasing their skill as a singer and saxophonist respectively.
The musical offered context to McAteer and Dahlberg’s honeymoon, which was a nice detail but felt as if it would have belonged more naturally at the end. It blurred the line between their real relationship and the musicians’ relationship they were trying to portray, making it difficult to become completely immersed in their performance. Overall, it was a very enjoyable piece of theatre with the added privilege of offering beautiful music by talented musicians, a sure-fire success in any Holiday fan’s eyes.