PPP: Sally

Sep 20 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Worryingly funny

Traverse: Tue 20 – Sat 24 Sept 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The uneasy relationship between politics and theatre is laid comically bare in James Ley’s Sally, the first in the new run of A Play, A Pie & A Pint from Oran Mor at the Traverse.

Presented in association with Aberdeen Performing Arts, the play deals with the somewhat unlikely runaway success of a one-woman version of Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret, featuring recorded music, Brechtian mask work, puppets, ventriloquist’s dummies and ferocious ad-libbed attacks on the right-wing views of audience members.

Sally Reid. Pic Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Bizarre as this sounds, we have to take it on trust, because all of the action takes place backstage in a series of theatres, as the show’s success takes it from a tour of the Highlands and Islands to New York via the Festival Theatre and the West End.

The show’s Sally Bowles is portrayed by another Sally (played here by yet another namesake in Sally Reid), who begins to worry that the success of the show is mirroring or even encouraging the rise of the populist right. Her new assistant Tyler (Sam Stopford) seeks to allay her fears, but may be out for himself – or even have another agenda.

Ley’s play is structurally lop-sided, falling foul of the common PPP tendency to cram in too much. It suddenly takes a last-minute lurch into a genre that had its heyday at the same time as the movie of Cabaret, that of the paranoid conspiracy thriller, and becomes less than convincing.


However, for most of its running time the script is sparkling, funny and thought-provoking. The constant fear of performers that audiences laugh with – rather than at – the objects of their satire is omnipresent.

The main character’s worries about normalising the far right are even more topical with an apologist for Mussolini favourite to become PM in Italy, and the recent Swedish election results being a salutary lesson about how mainstream parties co-opting extremists’ policies enables rather than silences them.

Sally Reid and Sam Stopford. Pic Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Sally Reid is one of the most reliable performers around for roles blending comedy and drama. Her portrayal of the conflicted, self-obsessed Sally is beautifully pitched, with great humour and considerable charm.

Tyler is initially presented as self-pitying, knowingly camp and starstruck, and Stopford turns in an endearing portrayal, managing to keep the character just on the right side of convincing as the plot begins to unravel. The two characters’ rapport is instantly believable, which goes a long way to making everything hang together.

Jemima Levick’s direction is pacy and economical, with the use of a series of slightly changed posters to signpost the changing settings a particularly neat touch.

political landscape

In the end, of course, the effect of the arts on the political landscape (despite Tyler’s contention that ‘art reflects life and life reflects art’) is often negligible. Cabaret itself acknowledges this openly, reflecting what Peter Cook once memorably called ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War’.

Furthermore, theatre – and particularly West End theatre, with its eye-watering prices – is often so exclusive that its impact on most people is insignificant. Ley is well aware of this, with more than one joke to this effect in the play.

These jokes – like much of the humour directed at specific figures – are less than subtle, but done with such gleeful wit that they are easily excused.

Which can be said for the whole production, which has a momentum that helps to navigate any bumps in the road.

Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 September 2022
Daily at 1.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here

See the Traverse listings page here for the rest of the PPP run this season.

Sally Reid and Sam Stopford. Pic Tommy Ga Ken Wan


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