City Stories: St James Theatre - Review

City Stories

City Stories describes itself as ‘a new type of cabaret drama, a sequence of interwoven love stories and a love letter to London’. It’s a pretty accurate description. It’s slightly overlong at 1hr 25m but an interesting format. 3 women present monologues which are interspersed with music and song. It is written and directed by playwright James Phillips and with original music composed by singer-songwriter Rosabella Gregory. The set is a sparse stage in the corner of the intimate cabaret style Studio at the new St James Theatre (a modern beautifully designed space), and Thursday night played to a full house. The performers are positioned amongst the audience and there is a seamless transition between story and song.

City Stories starts with Gregory at the grand piano. She’s exquisite, strong but delicate and her melancholy-mellow honeyed voice starts the evening. It’s entrancing and inviting and each time she plays and sings she contributes to the easy transition with the spoken word. The first piece, Narcissi, is performed largely by Sarah Quintrell with an understated sweet performance by her co-star (playing a small part in each piece) Tom Gordon. Quintrell is captivating – she is bursting with the energy of her character and her story of self-discovery is enchanting. She commands the room, and the use of the space is well-gauged and skilfully done. It feels like thorough theatre, well directed, well rehearsed and truly felt.

It was difficult for the next two pieces, The Great Secret and Lullaby to sustain the atmosphere created by the first story. They too utilise the considerable talents of chanteuse Gregory. Louisa Clein and Daphne Alexander take up the respective monologues. They both command the stage ably and are clearly very accomplished but there is a different tone and delivery to these two pieces, and the lack of variety in the direction makes me a little impatient.

These shows are part of an expanding residency at St. James Studio from the City Stories Company, with special guest Alex Hanson (Stephen Ward, Jesus Christ Superstar) who croons well enough but feels a little restrained and out of place in the small venue. Having said that, there is much to enjoy here. The format has enormous potential (possibly dinner-theatre?). The script positively resonates with London life and has an authenticity about it – place names, shops, sights – which is pleasing for the London theatre-goer. It is a treat!

(C) Katie Richardson 2014


City Stories
1-2 May 2014
St James Theatre Studio, 12 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JA


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