Waitress – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Sandra Callard, September 2021
Waitress sports a combination of singing, comedy and drama, with a steady and experienced cast, so all bodes well for an entertaining night at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Set in America, the cast do well with American accents, which settle down to an easy and believable cadence. The story follows the lives of waitresses working at Joe’s Pie Diner, where waitress Jenna, played with gusto throughout by Lucie Jones, make and devise their famous pies.
The stage sets are excellent and quite detailed, and the customers are a really good backdrop that add to the feeling of a true American diner. The smaller roles in the show are really very impressive and certainly make an impact. Tamlyn Henderson is impressive as the scarily abusive husband, Earl, and Scarlet Gabrial makes a fine debut as the wonderfully sarcastic Nurse Norma.
Jenna not only has an abusive husband but has just found out she is pregnant. She is ably supported by two waitress friends, Becky, beautifully played by Sandra Marvin, and Dawn, a nervous little waitress who always tries to do the right thing. They are an appealing trio, being so very different to each other, but still work well together.
The story runs on predictable lines as Jenna dreads having a child with the husband, and the scene at home with the two of them is powerful and disturbing, but when she starts to have an affair with her hospital doctor things start to go slightly off kilter. The affair, which is obviously a grave act for a doctor, very strangely goes into comedy mode, mixed with physical attacks from her husband. The two do not mix well, and as the jokes and singing continues, the dire straits of Jenna is treated all too lightly.
Yet, alongside this situation runs an absolutely brilliant sequence when a customer, Ogie, played by George Crawford, falls for little Dawn. She refuses him and his persistence is such a funny and clever piece of acting that it brings the house down. It stands out as a piece of unique and individual acting which contains some acrobatic and truly startling moves which are unique and hilariously funny. For me it is the highlight of the show and warrants a bigger role for Crawford.
Waitress is a strange combination, with great singing, and unusual but perfect music from a visible, if small, band. But the serious issues are treated almost as an afterthought. So while the performances are superb, the uneasy juxtaposition of opposing subjects does not lie easily with the plot – and as Jemma’s life seesaws from fear to joy to comedy it appears that important subjects are sometimes trivialised.