Review: Some girl I used to know with Denise Van Outen
It’s hard to categorise Denise Van Outen. Is she a tv presenter? Theatre star? Wannabe singer? Celebrity mum?
You could probably argue she’s a little bit of all of the above.
I first remember seeing her on the Big Breakfast. Not as a presenter which is how most recall her, but as a type of weathergirl, working from a helicopter. I’ve no idea if this is correct or not, or whether the mists of time have clouded my memory. What I do seem to recall is that the position was short-lived and that her on-screen presence demanded - and received - a bigger role in front of the camera.
When she wasn’t presenting early morning TV shows, she was appearing in FHM in various states of undress, making men across the country - myself included - fall slowly in love with the girl from Basildon.
I now follow Denise on Twitter. She seems to flit wildly between tweeting about her daughter, and life as a mum, to proactively promoting her one-woman show, “Some girl I used to know”. Even as a DVO fan, I can’t say that the idea of going to see her perform in a self-penned musical really appealed.
So you co-wrote it, star alone in it, and use it as a platform to show off your no doubt limited vocal range? No thanks, I’ll stick to the bigger and better-known plays nearby, thank you. Even with her past experience in the musical Chicago, I was unconvinced.
So it was somewhat surprising when I found myself handing over cold hard cash to see my former crush in action. True, I hadn’t planned on seeing the production, but after a full day in London both the girlfriend and I were on the lookout for something to occupy us the following evening.
Whether it was the fact that we had been soaked to the skin by the British Bank Holiday weather and wanted to choose something quickly, or because something caught our eye, I’m not sure. But as we mooched along, soggy and tired, from Leicester Square to our hotel near Holborn, we passed the Arts Theatre. Looking to all intents and purposes like a trendy bar at first glance, you’d be forgiven (had you not spotted the massive billboard outside) for thinking that this was only that - a bar.
Deciding quickly between us that it would be worth investigating prices - having just returned from the ticket office where they felt £190 was a perfectly acceptable price for two tickets to see The Book Of Mormon - we wandered inside.
A large metal weight, used to prop open one of the doors, had somehow escaped its role and sat slightly off-centre in the doorway. I know this as, naturally, I tripped arse over tit over the bloody thing as I entered.
Ignoring the coffee bar to the left (I know, right? Me ignoring coffee. Told you I was tired), we shuffled forward and got to the counter. An attractive girl in her twenties shuffled ten-pound notes in her hand as she looked up, smiled and said hi.
With a background of noise that centred on the all-male bar staff loudly flirting with each other across the length of the bar, we enquired about tickets for the following night.
“We have loads left!” came the response a little too bouncily. Is it true that you can judge a play by the amount of unsold seats? We were about to find out. We handed over £50 for two of the mid-price range seats and went on our way.
The following night we arrived thirty minutes before the start of the performance to pick up the tickets (which, from memory, we hadn’t been able to do when paying as the machine was broken) and were immediately offered a free swap to sit in two more expensive seats. We both nodded and upgraded quickly.
We took our seats and looked at the stage. A bed, a small desk and make-up mirror, a sofa and a desk. Not much more. From the ceiling hung various symbols of a childhood that saw the 80s and 90s. Gordon the Gopher, Mallet’s Mallet, Trivial Pursuit and many other items were suspended on wires above the whole of the stage. As it turned out, none were used as active props but were definitely a talking point before the show started.
At 8.15pm the lady herself came out and the show began. Belting out her own modified version of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” made famous by Soft Cell, my initial and instinctive thought was that she was perhaps trying too hard. As the show went on, it quickly became apparent that what I’d perceived had been wrong. Van Outen was able to sing, and sing well.
The story follows Stephanie – played by Denise Van Outen – who is a successful business woman, famous for her range of underwear, and equally well known for her private life being splashed all over the papers. Married to Paul for years, a sudden Facebook poke (does Facebook still have that?!) springs Stephanie into a whirlwind of memories of times gone past. Her first love, Sean, initiated the poke and what follows is a surprisingly well-written story.
There were aspects that annoyed me about the show. Van Outen’s habit of bending slightly forward and to her right as she started a strong note was probably not noticed by many, but when I saw it for the first time I couldn’t help but see it every time. Also, the strong Essex accent – piled on thicker than it needed to be – had a habit of making me wince every now and then.
However, if I’m to be totally honest, I am nit-picking. The accent, whilst more Saaaarfend than Chelmsford, gave weight to the character – A Chelmsford girl done good. Any slightly strange movement when singing was totally blown away by the voice itself – a voice which belies the wannabe pop star that the star of the show wanted to be twenty years ago, and which is as far removed from a charity single with Johnny Vaughan as you could imagine.
With various mentions of local Chelmsford places (including Duke Street, Tindal Street, The Golden Fleece and High Chelmer to name but a few), the story moved at speed and the emotions displayed seemed genuine and heartfelt rather than acted.
If I had been skeptical before, I came away converted. The writing was superb, the acting even better and the music was contagious enough to have me singing a Sonia song as we walked back to the hotel.
There are many things that you could call Denise Van Outen. Trust me, when she began stripping on stage, one of the things I almost called out was for her hand in marriage (the girl’s still got it!), but after this display the title of actress, singer or playwright would sit well.
Overall, though, and above everything else, I would just call her extremely talented.
Some girl I used to know is on at the Arts Theatre until 13th September.
This is an honest review based on my own experience, and no free tickets, reimbursement or other incentive was received for writing this.