Whats On: this weekend and more

Rachel Tucker is well known in musical theatre circles.

However, I was ignorant of her track record and her talent when she and her husband Guy moved in across the road from us seven years ago.

Indeed, I was curious and concerned in equal measure back then when I used to see this purposeful brunette looking decidedly green around the gills as she left her house in Penge.

She never looked well. It wasn’t until I saw the show Wicked some years later I finally understood her pallor to be the result of the green make-up she wore when playing the part of the most agreeable witch in the West End.

She still holds the record as the longest serving Elphaba in London’s production of Wicked, having done the part for nigh-on three years in one stint.

However, it wasn’t until we went as a family to see her in a one-woman show at the St James Theatre that I really got that she could sing. And she really can sing.

On a cold autumn evening one Sunday last year, an assortment of eclectic folk gathered to enjoy an evening with Rachel and her band. Organised as a fundraiser for the local theatre where she and Guy are the artistic directors, the garden of the Bridge House Tavern, Penge, was bedecked with bunting, lights and pub bench tables.

That most British of events, torrential rain, had lashed down for much of the day and when we arrived just before 7pm, Guy and others were hastily taping tarpaulin covers to a series of gazebo-type struts. We’d opted for the standing tickets, with the hope we might perch somewhere.

There was a full house, the temporary sheeting was offering some shelter from the showers and there was camaraderie in the air. We were braving the elements to enjoy what promised to be a special evening of song.

The band, comprising a pianist, a drummer and a bass player, were perched slightly precariously in front of the rear doors of the pub. They warmed us up briefly and then Rachel arrived through those back doors.

It might hardly have been a glamorous entrance and yet somehow it was. I’ve seen Rachel perform a few times now. She lights up an auditorium when she appears and the pub garden of the Bridge House Tavern was no exception.

She greeted the audience and apologised for the weather, thanking us for making it out on such a wet and windy evening. She then launched into a programme of show tunes and songs from her current album, On the Road.

The evening was actually Rachel and guests.

At regular intervals she welcomed up onstage various musicians. These included instrumentalists and singers who, under normal circumstances, may well not have made it to Penge in a month of Sundays.

However, thanks to Rachel, make it they did and the level of musicianship was of the highest standard. There were some lovely duets, including one with the actress who had played opposite Rachel in Wicked as Glynda, the Good Witch of the East.

In and among all this talent, one brave soul got up to sing a duet as a prize he’d won through a highest-bid auction. He did pretty well, with Rachel pitching it perfectly so as to support rather than outshine him.

And that, I think, is the attribute that shone out so clearly that evening. I am not of the West End, nor familiar with the ins and outs of showbiz folk. However, I would lay a dollar to a dime that there are few with Rachel’s singing talent and professional profile who would brave the elements to support a pub theatre venture in the back-end of South London.

Despite the wind whipping up at times and unceremoniously dumping gallons of water from the tarpaulins onto the gallant punters seated below, Rachel warmed us all with her infectious combination of humour and care.

There were plenty of great musical moments and, to finish, Rachel treated us to that showstopper from Wicked, Defying Gravity. It showcases her vocal range and transports those who have seen the show to a magical place.

Here in Penge it was clearly what some of her die-hard fans had come to see.

For me, the highlight was another solo piece, an arrangement of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. As she sang this gentle version of the Elton John classic, I reflected that Rachel doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight but, inevitably, the spotlight does belong to her.

She commands it without having to demand it. Rachel is due back to the Bridge House Tavern in Penge on Sunday. I doubt she’ll be able to cast any spells in regard to the weather but I know she’ll offer another enchanting evening.

I urge you to take your courage in both hands, dress for rain just in case and venture to deepest south London. She’ll not disappoint you.

Bridge House Theatre is at 2 High Street, Penge, SE20 8RZ. Tickets are £30.
Call 020 8133 0311.


Legendary jazz vocalist Salena Jones performs on her 70th year anniversary as a performer with a career spanning show at the historic Queen Elizabeth Hall, September 28 – with a 22-piece orchestra conducted by her husband, renowned composer and arranger, Keith Mansfield. Salena’s astounding seven decades as a performer have seen her perform before audiences across Europe, the Americas and Asia; setting the record for the longest ever residency at Ronnie Scott’s, releasing 43 albums and working with jazz and blues royalty, from Louis Armstrong to Sarah Vaughan to Antonio Carlos Jobim.

A new play inspired by the first man in America to plead insanity as a defence is being performed by Strictly Arts tonight and tomorrow. Written by Camilla Whitehill, it threads together six real-life stories from William Freeman to Sarah Reed through theatre, shadow puppets, spoken word and gospel singing. The play asks, has anything changed since the days when mental health and systemic racism were so closely linked?
21 Surrey Quays Road SE16 7AR tonight and tomorrow canadawatertheatre.org.uk

An interactive storytelling show by spoken-word artists, Polarbear, who makes things up: stories, jokes, adventures – he’s a master maker-upper. But where did it all begin? Mouth Open, Story Jump Out is about the moment that started it all, and how one little decision set off a chain reaction that changed his life. International assassins, secret codes, dog-eating boa constrictors and more emerge when a father disappears and a boy discovers a talent for telling tales.
Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street, Southwark, until October 27.

Nunhead Art Trail, tomorrow and Sunday, showcases the work of local artists and craftspeople in their own homes, studios, halls and centres in Nunhead. An array of artwork includes jewellery, ceramics and large-scale works for sale. The event also features dance, performance and poetry. 11am-6pm.

Alan Bennett’s latest play Allelujah! is all about The Beth, an old-fashioned hospital on the edge of the Pennines threatened with closure. A sharp and funny production, it tackles some heavy issues facing the elderly patients with an awful lot of heart. See it at Bridge Theatre, near Tower Bridge.
Tickets from £15. 3 Potters Fields Park SE1 2SG until tomorrow bridgetheatre.co.uk

Divine Proportions, is an immersive dining experience that blurs the line between feast and fantasy. Taking place in The Vaults, you’ll be led through secret glittering tunnels, hidden doors and fragrant, floral corridors by your mercurial host Dionysus, and into a paradise of indulgence and entertainment to explore female beauty, sensuality, personal freedom and gender fluidity. Divine Proportions, produced by Shotgun Carousel, is a re-imagining of the Bacchicrites – an indulgent night of eating, drinking and wild dancing. Tickets start at £35 and include five-course banquet.
The Vaults, Waterloo, until January 21. thevaults.london

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