Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Liv Ancell
I have to start with a confession: I’m a typical millennial whose only exposure to the life’s work of Cilla Black prior to watching this show was watching her as the feisty host of Blind Date when I was a kid. The extent of my research before turning up to the theatre was a quick Spotify search, followed by a couple of obligatory listens.
However, the excitement and glamour of this show not only won over the audience – the majority of which were in their 50s and 60s, turning up in force to pay tribute of to a much-loved entertainer of their days – but it succeeded in winning over my millennial heart, too.
One feature of the production which thoroughly deserves a mention is the set design, the brainchild of Gary McCann and lighting designer Nick Richings. The show’s concentric arches lent so much depth to the Playhouse stage, while the clever use of lighting gave the audience many unexpected delights.
From a brick-walled Merseyside club, to the red-curtained London Palladium, to a psychedelic TV set in far-flung New York: the light effects and set changes transported the audience along with Cilla on her categorical rise to fame. The changes were seamless, genius, and utterly magical, transforming the stage from a wood-panelled 60s recording studio to a street of terraced houses in the blink of an eye.
Onto the show’s protagonist. Our Liverpool legend was embodied perfectly by Kara Lily Hayworth, who not only took the whirlwind of costume changes (seriously, I lost count) in her expert stride, but a challenging repertoire of Cilla Black songs and covers (I lost count of how many songs she belted out) too.
The audience was enraptured from start to finish by her breath-taking exhibition of ballads which ranged from rock to pop and showed no signs of flagging throughout. Mastering a 60s Scouse accent and even retaining it while singing is no easy feat, and Hayworth stunned with her performance in what must be a seriously challenging and demanding role.
Despite my no-show to the swingin’ decades of the 60s, even I was pleased to be able to recognise some of the show’s characters. The Beatles and Brian Epstein, their legendary manager, feature heavily throughout the story as contemporaries of Cilla. The show’s Beatles were so brilliantly cast that at one point my companion whispered, “That guy looks so much like Paul McCartney that it’s actually freaking me out”.
Carl Au gave an endearing performance as Bobby Willis; charming the audience from beginning to end as Cilla’s loyal companion. His solo performances are well worth the wait; in Act 2 Bobby realises his own singing ambitions and performs a lovely rendition of “A Taste of Honey”. Meanwhile, Cilla’s parents bring a comedy aspect to the show with their hilarious repeated one-liners which had the audience in stitches every time.
Her death a couple of years ago brought sadness to many hearts across this nation, and this show looks to celebrate her incredible talent. Cilla will stun and surprise you from start to finish, with its catchy tunes and rise-to-fame story. With its chintzy and glamorous sets, excellent supporting cast and jaw-dropping lead, this show will leave you awe-struck – and it certainly won’t disappoint you, whether you’re a Cilla fan or just an unwitting millennial like myself.
Cilla runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until September 23rd before continuing its tour.