It takes a brave actress indeed to decide to create your own solo show and take it on the road, especially an already successful one. Leah MacRae is well-known and loved as Julie in Gary: Tank Commander, Ellie in the Scottish soap River City and the lead in the spoof 50 Shades of Maggie, so you think she’d rest on her laurels. To lay bare your embarrassing teenage diary musings with the world and open up about your daily struggles with fat-shaming, and rejection in your industry, takes courage, even if it is couched in a musical comedy show.
The first impression of MacRae is that she is a fearless, bold, bigger than life personality, un-moved by the criticism of others, and to a certain extent that’s true (she bounds on stage looking like a bubblegum pink pantomime fairy), she even says: “if I were a size 10, I’d be a complete w****r”. However, as we scratch beneath the surface to get to the real message behind these stories and songs, there’s a world of hurt that’s had to be overcome. MacRae is here to spread the word about us all being a bit kinder to each other, that however positive a face we present to the world, these constant barbs and the constant career rejection because of your size, does hurt. That we should embrace and have confidence in who we are, whatever we look like. To never give up on our dreams. She hysterically cites Victoria Beckham as her unlikely inspiration, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think!
Split into two acts, there are few theatrical conventions the Glaswegian powerhouse doesn’t cover: there’s drama, lots and lots of comedy, funny songs, heart-breaking songs, big ballads, a mix-tape section!, dancing and a ton of banter with her hometown audience. While the first act is a mixture of all these, the second becomes a bit more reflective and the mood does take a bit of a dive, until we end with the ubiquitous This Is Me from The Greatest Showman.
There’s some good material here, but there’s a feeling it’s not all it could be. MacRae, talks about constant comparisons to fellow Glaswegian Michelle McManus. McManus has had her own one-woman show, also autobiographical, also funny and also featuring some knock out hits. While MacRae is a talented comedy actress, McManus is a natural born storyteller with an innate comic timing that can’t be learned, and an ability to gauge exactly what makes a perfectly pitched show. MacRae possibly needs some outside eyes to take this raw material with great potential and make it a knock-out from start to finish. There’s also the issue of nerves. MacRae is home, not only in front of her local fans, but her family and friends, and the pressure shows. She looks nervous and as a result the dialogue comes out so fast that it’s impossible to hear a lot of it from anywhere above the stalls.
It’s easy to warm to MacRae, this is an entertaining evening and it’s great to hear her unleash her big voice at full force, but there’s a lot of potential that’s not being fulfilled. Hopefully, there’s more to come. If this is the first version of her stage show, I can’t wait to see the next.
Leah MacRae continues to tour until June. See her website for details.