Leicester Square Theatre 24 – 28 May. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Becoming Hattie is a fantastic one-woman show, with a powerhouse performance from Ashley Christmas.
As Jo, Christmas presents an outwardly strong actress with great ambition, but stuck in bit part roles as cleaners because of her size. Jo is bubbly and loud, full of enthusiasm and love of life, so her emotional reactions to snide comments and jokes about her weight are all the more moving. Jo tells of the first time, aged 8, that she saw Jacques on TV, in “Sykes”. There was a woman just like her, and people were laughing with her, not at her.
We get a snapshot of Jo’s career, including the fantastical background stories and names she gives characters such as “Domestic number 8”. The moment she has with Sherlock and her tabard character dance are superb. Her frustration at always wearing tabards is taken out on her awful agent Cinda. Cinda has a sociopathic child, Aslan, and she is always having Joyce Grenfell moments shrieking at him – simply wonderful. And then she gets the chance to play Lady Macbeth…
Hattie Jacques’ life is introduced by using audience members to take part as Desert Island Discs hosts – a lovely conceit. The difference between smooth, sophisticated Hattie and bubbly Jo is played beautifully by Christmas. Jacques’ marriage to John Le Mesurier and her affair with John Scofield are explored – with tear-jerking speeches explaining her choices, and a gorgeous story to her son ending with her warning him to never throw away a diamond.
Both Jo and Hattie are shown suffering from being type cast because of their size – with contrasting, but equally effecting responses to the casting directors. Jo’s climactic rant when she is reading for the part of Hattie Jacques is devastatingly raw and powerful.
This is a show that tackles the serious issue of prejudice and diversity with skill, charm and humour. Christmas has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she walks on stage, and her energetic and charismatic performance makes this a sure fire hit.