After playing the character of Lesley in Touched For The Very First Time three years ago Sadie Frost returns as the Madonna obsessive and Manchester socialite. Back then the Queen of Pop published a disclaimer claiming no responsibility for the content of writer Zoe Lewis’ play. God knows what she would make of this second outing; this is a character that surely had everything that was vaguely interesting about her explored the first time around.
Lesley has grown up since then; the things that concern her now are not just the loss of her virginity but having a baby and living in a feminist world as a determinedly non-feminist girl. But Lewis’ faltering attempts at social commentary on female freedom and the legacy of the suffragettes merely calls to mind an episode of Sex and the City. We’ve heard all about being strong independent ladies before and from more engaging women than this.
Frost turns in an endearing performance as Lesley but strains for her words on occasion and often looks like a rabbit in the headlights, tentative in front of the somewhat raucous and talkative audience. But she has a fragile charm which is undeniable, and you find yourself willing her through this. As a celebrity friend of Madonna, Frost seems aware of the postmodern aspect of her performance as a woman who longs to hang out with the legendary pop star. But these nods to real life are never taken far enough and this extra layer of understanding feels like an opportunity wasted.
In between Lesley’s monologues David Wickenden from 4 Poofs and a Piano serenades the audience with snippets of the pop star’s greatest hits. He can’t sing a jot, but has buckets of charm and a pair of silver shoes that would make Dorothy jealous. Supporting him on piano and guitar, Ben Osborn adds a sheen of musical credibility.
Director James Phillips gets up close and personal with Frost, making full use of the space and creating a sense of intimacy – the audience end up longing for Frost to direct a line at them personally. But Phillips’ direction also has a rather rough quality and the many gaps and pauses are jarring.
Despite the likeability of its central performance, Touched…Like a Virgin is a very tentative exercise in cabaret and hero-worship. You feel the need to humour it, but ultimately you know it just isn’t all that good.