Review: A Couple of Swells, MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton, 20 April 2023

Review: A Couple of Swells, MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton, 20 April 2023

By Martin Brisland

In the film Easter Parade (1947), Judy Garland and Fred Astaire sing We’re a Couple of Swells. They appear as a couple of tramps in worn out clothing cast off by the super rich or ‘swells’.

This is the title of the brand new show performed on Thursday by Liza Pulman and Joe Stilgoe at the MAST Mayflower Studios.

Liza and Joe first collaborated during lockdown on the mesmerising track Bye Bye Blackbird, which received international acclaim. That led to the creation of this show.

And what a swell evening it was! Two hours of pure musical delight and real chemistry from two highly talented people.

The show featured some classic melodies from the 1920’s onwards from the Great American SongBook mixed with songs from Randy Newman, Billy Joel and the Beatles. Joe’s dazzling digits deliver a tour de force of piano playing. Liza delivers exquisite vocals and sublime harmonies. They are plainly having a ball playing the music they love.

It was a beautifully crafted evening of music and humour. They even got in some very up to date satirical references to Elon Musk’s exploding space rocket.

Liza’s thirty-year career has encompassed music, theatre and comedy, from Glyndebourne Opera through to West End musical theatre. She is one-third of the acclaimed satirical comedy group Fascinating Aida. Daughter of celebrated screenwriter Jack Pulman and actor Barbara Young, Liza’s upbringing gave her a deep love of theatre, movies and music.

Joe’s career extends across theatre, TV and radio. He’s a Radio 4 regular on shows including Loose Ends. Five of his albums have topped the UK Jazz chart. Joe grew up surrounded by music – his parents are satirical songwriter and TV personality Richard Stilgoe and opera singer Annabel Hunt.

A highlight is when Joe asks the audience to name any song they wanted to hear. He then brilliantly created a medley including songs as disparate as The Ugly Duckling and A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

The pair are currently on a national tour and will be in Basingstoke next month. Joe will be bringing his jazz trio to the Turner Sims in July. Catch them if you can!

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