The Vaults – until 13 October 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Jeannette Bayardelle’s Off-Broadway smash tells the story of Shida, who we first meet lighting up her crack pipe. Bayardelle then takes us back to Shida’s childhood and through her college years to show how she got in this sorry state. Shida’s story is familiar – a bright child, sexually abused and guilt-ridden over a teenage abortion finally giving up on her dreams of being a writer after watching her mother die of cancer and turning to drugs to dull her pain. But the musical is based on the true story of Bayardelle’s childhood friend, turning what could seem like a midweek TV movie plot into something more personal and emotional. The short running time means that the songs and interlinking scenes charge past with little chance to pause for breath (until Bayardelle halts the show for a water break but never loses her hold on the audience).
Bayardelle plays every female in Shida’s life with dynamism and sublime characterisation, from inspirational teacher Miss Smalls to blunt but faithful friend Jackie. The men are voiceless, their presence implicit in Shida’s reactions and expressions, making the portrayal of the first time Uncle Steve rapes Shida more harrowing. This still feels like a work in progress, with potential to become a full-scale musical with a whole cast of women exploring the roles and letting rip with some wonderful harmonies, but even in this current form, Shida is a show that packs a punch. Director Andy Sandberg keeps the fast pace from becoming repetitive, and the audience is swept along on the tidal wave of talent and energy from Bayardelle. Her vocal power and characterisation are simply sublime, in both the softer numbers and those that are belted out with stylish ferocity. After starring roles on Broadway, the chance to see Jeannette Bayardelle performing in such an intimate theatre is one not to miss. Grab a ticket while you can.