Listen to my interview with Sue Bevan about An Audience With Shurl – click here: http://fringereview.co.uk/audio-interviews/general/2017/finding-the-comedy-in-a-serious-subject-jo-tomalin-talks-with-sue-bevan-about-an-audience-with-shurl/
“An Audience With Shurl” is one of the best shows I’ve seen in 17 years of Fringe-ing. Sue Bevan is a generous and accomplished actor with the ability to grab her audience by the heart and hold them fast. Her show is funny, warm, true, tightly written, and very well done. I didn’t want it to end. See it now, while you still have a chance.
Sue’s performance was powerful and heartbreaking. Well done!
Sue Bevan’s many-layered play gave me chills. Her stage presence is mesmerizing, as she lavishly mixes struggle and fantasy. Sue gives her audience a glimpse into the lives of the Welsh – their worries, their problems, their dreams. And leaves us with a sense that the future holds still more beauty to be mined.
Fantastic tale that I couldn’t stop listening to. She is captivating and believable. Definitely a must see.
The Fringe Review Highly Recommends An Audience With Shurl! It’s Dynamic + Compelling. Beautifully written and performed. Read the Full Review here:
Thanks Jo. Always great to read a review like this.
Beautifully performed, nuanced with great character work, portraying both laughter and sadness, definitely belongs on the list of shows to see at the Fringe. Terrific from start to finish.
Thank you so much David. Always great when fellow performers appreciate your show.
There’s a beautiful Welsh word hiraeth – a deep longing for home. I felt immediately at home in Sue’s world.
I will never forget the scene with her 14 stairs down in the basement on the toilet with her Granny singing and telling her stories. This show powerfully demonstrates how imagination keeps us alive while we are in situations and places that might kill our spirit. It also vividly renders how we lose and find ourselves again and again.
Sue Bevan strips herself bare on the stage.
Denise, it’s always lovely when people get the cultural references, and you use of the word ‘hiraeth’ shows you really got the whole show. thank you for your kind words.
I was very happy to have caught this show at the San Francisco fringe festival a couple days ago. This woman and her ability to make you feel every bit of an emotional spectrum that you can think of amazed me. I’m very empathic and this show absolutely blew me away with how she transitioned through emotions. Also got the chance to talk to this wonderful woman after her show and she was absolutely lovely and I still have a million questions for her. This show is a must see.
Thank you, Aaron – what a lovely review!
I was lucky enough to catch this show before the inevitable sold out audiences she will more than likely get during the rest of this Festival.
Get tickets to this show asap.
One of the best Storytellers I have ever seen. Her shift in energy from heartfelt to comedic was flawless and effortless. She had us engaged from the moment she introduced herself to the moment she took her bow.
A beautiful talented or finding yourself sometimes through others.
A must see.
Oh Jaye – I so appreciate this. Wow! Please come and see the sequel when it’s done: Shurl’s journey ‘home’ – wherever and whatever that might be!
I will be there with bells on. Probably clothes as well.
A superb solo theater work — moving, finely crafted and nuanced by Sue Bevan, full of laughter and also sadness. Definitely on the list of SF Fringe shows to see.
Thank you, David. I really appreciate your remarks. SO glad you enjoyed it.
Moving, amusing, heartbreaking. Story telling at its best. A brilliant piece that will have you simultaneously laughing and sobbing.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue and Shurl before seeing the play. They are both wonderful ladies in their own right, and although Shurl was a little disappointed that we had not been able to put out the red carpet for her she generously forgave me. Both Sue and Shurl share a similar background growing up in post war Wales and their lilting voices add another layer to the stories they tell. At the theatre Shurl greets the audience, inviting you into her world, the world of Shirley Bassey’s greatest fan and where this leads her. Funny, sad and thought provoking this one woman show remains clearly framed in my minds eye, something I find myself musing over in quiet moments and finding more facets to this little gem.
An evening with Shurl – engaging, emotional, questioning, and most of all completely absorbing, thank you for a great experience.
One of our more mature responsibilities as human adults is to take our experiences of the darker side of life and transmute them into something we find useful, perhaps even telling stories about those things. Rather than pour pink paint onto the memory of a tragic event, pretending it didn’t happen, or taking refuge in some sort of denial, we can use the recollection to communicate something about survival, or conquering fear, or being emotionally present for new sets of people even when you’ve been used badly by people in your past. Ironically, writer/performer Sue Bevan has taken a personal tragedy and written a show and, by doing that, has shown that she can skillfully transmute an actual experience of her own by telling the story of a character who couldn’t quite do the same. Bevan has perhaps staved off a bit of madness for herself by creating Shurl, whose madness might just be charming and funny, or, then again, might not.
We meet Shurl as soon as we walk into the theatre and look for a seat – she greets us cheerily, dressed in a bathrobe, and engages us in friendly conversation in her melodic Welsh accent. Shurl asks us where we’re from and how we are like a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school, trying to make her charges feel welcome and comfortable.
Once we’ve settled down, we’re treated to a series of anecdotes about Shurl’s direct and indirect experiences as a child growing up in post-WWII Wales; tales which are visually evocative, funny, sweet, strange, and even horrific. Shurl uses her own avatar to tie these tales together – Singer Shirley Bassey, known to Americans, if she’s known, as the singer who popularized the song “Goldfinger” from the James Bond film of the same name back in 1964.
When the warm front of Shurl’s Bassey-worship meets the cold cruelty of being forced to give a baby up for adoption at fifteen, it creates a perfect storm in the mind of sweet, loopy Shurl that ultimately propels her from her home in Tiger Bay, Wales and around the world, following Bassey from concert to concert.
There’s no triumphant tale of self-empowerment, though, for poor Shurl. She’s done a bit of mild stalking of Ms. Bassey, sending her thousands of creepy postcards, and, ultimately, when she tries to meet her idol, it all goes pear shaped. Perhaps Shurl expects that Bassey will acknowledge some common ground – after all, Bassey herself gave up a child at 19. Bassey was also far from a jet-setting sophisticate; she was quoted once saying leaving Tiger Bay was “the worst thing (she) ever did.” But Bassey, according to Shurl, rebuffs her super fan, gives back all the postcards, and sends Shurl into a tailspin, from which it’s pretty clear she’s not going to recover.
I do hope that audiences will choose to spend some time in the company of Ms. Bevan, as Shurl or otherwise, because she’s a storyweaver extraordinaire, and a terrific presence onstage. Americans may not really know who Shirley Bassey is, or was, but they don’t really need to, and they’ll certainly know a talented writer/performer when they see Ms. Bevan doing her thing as a a part of this fest.
An article published in South Africa’s Cape times by Darrel Bristol-Bovey:
This week I fixed a phobia. Well, maybe not a phobia. To qualify as a phobia a disposition has to be extreme in force, disproportionate to the peril presented and somewhat disruptive to your life.
A lot of my fears are too rational and appropriate to qualify as full phobias – I don’t think an aversion to reggae music, green peppers and being hugged by strangers can be described as unreasonable. That’s just common sense.
I’ve also spent a lot of my life imagining how it would feel to be trapped in a dark space too narrow to turn around or lift my arms in – a rusty iron barrel, say, or the air vent in a gold mine, or a close-fitting coffin – and furthermore how it might feel if water were to start rising in that place, inching remorselessly over my face. As a result of these speculations I studiously avoid unlit narrow crawlspaces that are vulnerable to tidal fluctuations of water, which frankly hasn’t impoverished my life much and doesn’t set me much apart from everyone else I’ve ever met.
But another strong aversion is my Theatre Panic, aka my Party Panic. For a very long time I tried to avoid birthday parties or small theatres, and for the same reason: what if no one else arrives? I don’t think I’d be able to stand the awkwardness of being the only person there, of having to make excruciating eye contact with the host or the performer. Wouldn’t they be too embarrassed to let me live? Wouldn’t they have to kill me?
It would be much kinder to have no one arrive than someone, and if only one were to arrive, it really shouldn’t be me. I’m the wrong man for the job; I don’t have the reserves of warmth and confidence and social grace to put anyone at ease. I would squirm and tremble and make brittle, evasive jokes that would just make them feel worse and more utterly alone. This is why I prefer large parties or shows where I’m convinced there’ll be a nearly full house. Since I’m also mortally averse to crowds, all this makes for an awkward social life.
But this week I acted out of character. On Monday afternoon I learnt about a last-minute, one-off presentation of Welsh performer Sue Bevan’s one-woman show, upstairs at the Alexander Bar. The announcement was in the afternoon; the show was at 7pm. I bought tickets. It was foolhardy and spontaneous, and it instantly occurred to me that other Capetonians aren’t exactly known for their spontaneity, especially in winter. There was a big chance of a small audience.
I arrived and had a drink in the bar to settle my nerves, scanning with a sinking heart the unarriving crowds. No! I must be positive! Maybe they all arrived early. Maybe they’re all upstairs in their seats. Be positive!
I presented my ticket and entered tentatively. It was worse than I feared. There were eight of us. Eight! I sat in a daze. How had this happened? You spend your whole life avoiding narrow tunnels and then one day you see one and think, “Huh, I wonder if it would be fun to wriggle into that . oof . hey, this is tight .”
And what about the performer? How will she react? I’m so close to the stage, I can’t miss the dismay in her eyes. She’ll be embarrassed so I’ll be embarrassed and my embarrassment will feed back to her and . Oh God, I might die.
But then she started, and I realised that she didn’t need my neurotic empathy. The situation was embarrassing only if she agreed it was, and Sue Bevan refused to feel embarrassed.
It’s a semi-autobiographical show, her heartbreaking life story woven with a fantasy of being the world’s most committed Shirley Bassey fan. It’s funny and harrowing and sweet and she couldn’t have been more committed if we were a packed house on opening night in the West End. She performed. She revealed. She shared herself. At one point tears ran quietly down her cheeks and I saw them with a shock and then I cried too. That hour gave me what good, honest, crafted, generous art can give: we were nine strangers in a room, intimately sharing something. We weren’t alone and no one was missing from the empty chairs; I wasn’t embarrassed or awkward or trapped in the narrow crawlspace of my head.
I came out afterwards with a revived faith in the value of art and stories, made-up and real, to get us over ourselves and make us bigger than we are and less afraid. Afterwards I saw her in the bar and thanked her and she hugged me, and I didn’t mind because we weren’t strangers any more.
A delightfully honest work of theatre. It’s a meal of a show – from the sweetest highs to bitterly uncomfortable shame, you get an emotional workout with Shurl – never once being let go of Sue Bevan’s grip. I believe there’s a Shurl in each of us, and this show helps you confront your Shurl – perhaps in preparation to go on the adventures she so daringly embarks upon.
Here’s a couple of blogs I wrote about bringing An Audience With Shurl to NYC’s Midtown International Theatre Festival:
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE
‘Are you nervous?’ someone asked me last night about bringing my show over to New York then later San Francisco and Toronto.
‘No,’ I replied honestly. ‘I don’t tend to get nervous anymore before doing Shurl – just excited to be sharing it with people.’
A couple of hours ago I sat in the tiny black box theatre that is Midtown Festival’s Jewel Box. The technical rehearsal had gone well – efficient; lighting states swiftly sorted; cue-to-cue accomplished without a hitch. Twice. Tony Mann, the techie for the space, is easy to get along with, professional and sensitive to what’s needed to make An Audience With Shurl fly. (He’s even excited about seeing it in a couple of hours.) So there we were with a generous fifty minutes of tech time left over – fifty minutes in which I could do whatever seemed fit. I opted to let Tony go (although he still pottered somewhere out of sight and sound) and have the space to myself, to squeeze in a speed run of as much of the play as I had time for.
‘Lovely to see you here,’ I greeted an imaginary audience, ‘but I nearly forgot you was coming. Memory, eh!’ Then on to the bit about everyone supposedly remembering exactly where they were the day JFK was shot. ‘I guess for the youngsters it’ll be the Twin Towers…’ That line stops me dead in my tracks. Suddenly I’m breathless – the kind of breathlessness that only comes with fighting back tears, suppressing the need to wail, preventing tears of grief from flowing like parallel rivers about to burst their banks. And I have no idea at all where this came from. No idea whatsoever. But in that quiet moment, alone in that tiny theatre space just an arm’s throw from the site of the 9/11 tragedy, a wave of something way beyond myself swept through me, leaving me wondering how I will cope in just a couple of hours when I deliver that line. And what will its mention do to others sharing that space with me for that hour.
So should I change the reference? Should I leave the line out, or find another? I struggle with this for some time but then I find I come down decisively on one side” I really don’t believe I can. I have a feeling that this single line – this poignant reference for every New Yorker and for so many beyond the city’s bounds – I have a feeling it might bring me tonight to an emotional connection I always strive but don’t always reach with this piece about loss and search for meaning. And it would be a cop-out not to include it. Theatre can be such a wonderful, intimate space to connect with our feelings past and present, and to experience a sense of community now sadly so rare in our lives. No, I think it would be wrong to take out this moment of connection to something beyond ourselves.
So I think again now about that question: am I nervous about tonight? Yes, I am nervous now. In truth I’m full of nerves. And that’s such a different experience from what I normally feel before performing An Audience With Shurl. But I’m not afraid. And that’s what matters. We must not be afraid of feeling, and we must remember that we are not alone. It makes me think of the lines when Shirley Bassey takes little Shurl’s hands and tells her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Hold my hand. And hold it tight. This path is a fine path to be taking. I’m with you know. Come on, let’s go. We’ve got a journey to make. And we’re going to make it together. I’m here now. For as long as you need me.’
I don’t know who was with me in that space today, but what I do know is that we’re doing this together.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE NUMBERS
I just heard, after a period of silence for the best and most excusable of reasons, from an inspirational friend I made in South Africa. He’s a Cape Times journalist who reviewed An Audience With Shurl back in 2015. An inspirational essayist, his work reminds me how beautiful this short art-form can be. Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s column is a gem, a masterclass in the writing of essays – which is what a good blog should be, in my humble opinion.
So. Last night. My first night performing my solo show in New York. It feels a long way from the little island off the south coast of England where I live.
The audience is tiny. Capacity in the theatre is thirty. It can be stretched to forty-five if required, as Tony the techie optimistically informs me as we consider where the performance space should end and the front row begin. It has to be said that there was no requirement for those extra seats last night. As the doors close to signal the arrival of the last person, more than 75% of the seats are left empty. Not only that, but there seems to have been some centrifugal force which has scattered the audience to all corners of the seating area. Compared with the prospect presented by this situation, performing an extract of Shurl sat upon an athletics horse in the vast gym of a college in broad daylight to a hundred disengaged 16-year-olds on a ‘Sex & Relationships Day’ was a total breeze. Small audiences are tough. Small SCATTERED audiences are a nightmare. Yet this one wasn’t. It was quiet – mostly. (Always a bit alarming in the funny bits.) It was still – very. (Generally a good sign, but with the lights blinding me to them I simply had to keep believing they were still alive.) And when it came to the Twin Towers line, it went:
SHURL: They say everybody remembers exactly where they were the day JFK was shot. I guess for the youngsters it’ll be the Twin Towers…’
SOME GUY IN THE AUDIENCE: Yeah, and The Challenger disaster in between, for all kinds of different reasons.
We were both stopped in our tracks.
And at that point I knew I had them with me.
Okay, so it pulled me out of my body, out of the role, and put me very definitely in this space in this theatre in this city, and that’s something I need to work on adjusting back from. But it was about connection. And we two connected. With ourselves and with each other. So too, I imagine, did everyone in that room.
Over a beer later in the cool evening just off 8th Avenue, a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building, a dear friend – and much more seasoned writer-actor than me – who had been there in the audience, told me, ‘That’s what the piece is about, right? The search for connection. And it happened right there tonight.’
So while I still – STILL – struggle with the numbers game, judging the success of a performance on how many ‘bums’ are on seats, how much they laugh, or respond, or some other measurable indicator, I have to say that the small audience last night felt like they got it. And the numbers don’t – in any way except financial, and that’s not why we do this, surely – the numbers don’t matter.
Which brings me back to Darrell Bristow-Bovey’s wonderful piece in the Cape Times two years ago. He wrote of his fear of being trapped in a theatre with just him and the performer. That pressure on the spectator to perform ‘properly’ lest s/he lets the performer down. And he found himself in precisely this nightmare situation when he spontaneously bought a ticket to see Shurl in his home city in South Africa. And yet his wonderful review of the show ended with:
‘That hour gave me what good, honest, crafted, generous art can give: we were nine strangers in a room, intimately sharing something. We weren’t alone.’
So I remind myself. It’s not about numbers. And it’s not about what I feel I’m getting back from the audience. Just as my friend says, ’It’s about connection.’ Get people to connect – with themselves, with each other, with something bigger than ourselves – and it’s Job Done.
Looking forward to the next show and then San Francisco Fringe. And I’m clear now what my job will be – however few or many people may be there.
Don’t miss on a chance to be part of this mesmerising piece of art. Shurl’s story belongs on one level firmly in the Welsh vallleys and that gives us the humour and affirming warmth we need before we are challenged to see the wider tragedy and pathos that makes Shurl an Everywoman for our times. You’ll smile, laugh, weep and think your way through a beautifully executed performance of this tighlty written play.
An Audience With Shurl is solo performance at its best. Shurl greets you when you enter the theatre with the warmth of an old friend. She sits you down and tells you her riveting tale which is packed full of humor and passion. The skill of the performance combined with the sharp edge of the writing make An Audience With Shurl a must see.
Sue Bevan takes you on a journey that start with humour and moves towards an investigation of love, obsession and belonging. Be prepared for an emotional experience .
I caught An Audience with Shurl when it came through Cape Town, South Africa. It was funny, touching, intimate, electrifying and it made me feel connected to the performer, to the world, to the people around me. That hour gave me what good, honest, crafted, generous art can give: we in the audience weren’t just strangers in a room any more, we were intimately sharing something real and beautiful.
When I saw the play in Cape Town 2015. I was so in Love with the performance so I said to Sue after the petformance:
IF I wasn’t Mariefred i would prpose imidetlay
Her answer was:
IF I wasn’t divorsed i’ve might considered it.
I Love the performance and the actor. Please give Her à chansen to show you.
Leif Persson, manager
Such an excellent show. A local show that has universal emotions and therefore, universal pleasure!
You must see this!
Fantastic! So emotional, so absorbing, dare you not to shed a year!
such a evocative piece of writing and acting Sue, tears and laughter which leave the audience talking and thinking about the painful truth and the humour behind Shurl
Guiding us through a wonderfully performed piece of contemporary theatre, Sue Bevan’s character exploration of Shurl is used to convey a heart of emotion, with excellent blatant humour underneath all the glitz and glam.
A moving and thought provoking performance.
I have been blessed to see ‘Shurl’ 3 times including a wonderful intimate performance in Edinburgh at the fringe, which had audience members crying with laughter, sadness and appreciation. We all recognise someone, or parts of ourselves in ‘Shurl’ and Sue makes her someone you want to take home, wrap in a blanket and give hot chocolate to – at the price she will share more of her ‘stories’ with you. Treat yourself and see this show once, twice or every night it is on, each time you will learn more, feel more and recognise more. Sue and her wonderful creation Shurl forever 😃
Poignant and totally captivating!
A beautiful and emotional roller coaster, Shurl takes you on a journey that reconnects you with what it is to be human in a challenging world.
‘Perfect…beautifully executed’ (**** Broadway Baby)
‘Perfectly pitched…sad and sweet and beautiful all at once’ (**** Edfringe Review)
‘I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect to be moved so completely.’ (**** Andy Leask, Three Weeks)
**** Perfectly pitched…sad and sweet and beautiful all at once – Edfringe Review
**** Gripping, immersive…powerfully emotional – Three Weeks
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