Celebrating Linda Smith

Friday 9th May 2008, Sallis Benney Theatre, Brighton

By Michael Kemp

Readings and recreations of the fondly-remembered work of the late Linda Smith gave Sallis Benney Theatre a full and enthusiastic house on Friday night. Her caustic wit and quirky observations have lost none of their power to impress and reduce audiences to shrieks of laughter. Narrated by Linda's life partner (although she preferred the term "boyfriend": "partner" being best reserved for the accountancy profession) Warren Lakin - with finely-judged performances by Kate Rutter and Mike McCarthy.

All three read movingly, with Warren naturalistic, making no concessions to "polished" thespianism - he was who he was, and all the more credible for it. Kate Rutter caught the nuances of Linda's text so well, sometimes it could've been the lady in person - and McCarthy, a man of many hats, entertained with his ever-shifting persona and comic timing. There were also two fine readings by guest actress Gwyneth Strong, a willowy yet commanding presence at the microphone.

Another welcome guest was singer Carol Grimes. Her contribution was, as ever, magnificent and life-affirmative (even though she came hobbling onto the stage, due to an altercation with a dance floor in Brighton less than a week ago). Unbowed and spirits intact, Grimes climbed upon a precarious-looking barstool, with some difficulty, but then launched straight into a kick-ass version of Allen Toussaint's "Shoo-rah! Shoo-rah!!" (as covered memorably by Betty Wright), followed by Etta Jones' achingly beautiful "Don't Go to Strangers" with a heart-stopping piano accompaniment by Dorian Ford. They would up the first half of the proceedings with an impassioned rendition of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer's classic "Shipbuilding" - echoing the anger of Linda Smith's wry observations on the Thatcher Years and memories of the 1984/85 Miners' Strike.

After a short intermission, Carol and Dorian returned to enthral us once more with a heartfelt trawl through Shane MacGowan's "Rainy Night in Soho", a bleak and affecting "Scars" (a Fran Landesman song) - and finished up with a blistering interpretation of Randy Newman's "Baltimore".

"Celebrating Linda Smith" comes over as a warm and witty show, obviously poignant at times, but plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to balance - and with £1 from the sale of each ticket donated to Ovarian Cancer Action - a night to be proud of.