Vivienne Kennedy reviews Waitress, playing at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 12 February.
Waitress is a show we’ve been waiting a long time to see. It was originally scheduled to tour the UK and Ireland for the first time from November 2020, but we all know what happened that year, so it was delayed, eventually getting underway last September and finally arriving in Bristol this week.
Was it worth the wait? Oh, yes!
Based on a 2007 film of the same name (which I don’t recall ever seeing), Waitress is a musical featuring music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, who earned herself a Tony nomination for Best Original Score and a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album. The show’s all-female creative team includes Jessie Nelson, who wrote the book, and director Diane Paulus.
Jenna is a diner waitress and pie-maker extraordinaire, she even dreams in pie. And dreaming, particularly of the day variety, is something she does quite a lot, because she’s unhappily married and feeling trapped, ever more so when two lines show up on a certain type of test, and I’m not talking lateral flow!
As Jenna, Chelsea Halfpenny delivers a fantastic performance and her singing voice is crystal clear and beautiful. The applause as she finishes She Used To Be Mine, a love song to her lost self, in Act Two is incredible; for a moment I thought she was going to get a standing ovation right then.
Her husband, played very convincingly by Tamlyn Henderson, is a truly horrible man. He drinks heavily, talks her down, and takes her tips from her (until she starts hiding half); this is a character with nothing much in the way of redeeming features. He’s a bully, and you all know how we like them to get their comeuppance.
Her husband may be a waste of space, but Jenna has the support of great friends, including workmates Becky and Dawn (Sandra Marvin and Evie Hoskins) and diner owner Joe (Michael Starke); the sort of friends that can say it as it is, but who will always have her back.
Falling head over heels for her doctor (Matt Jay-Willis), who falls equally hard for her and her pies, doesn’t make Jenna’s life any less complicated. Despite him being married, it’s difficult not to want a happy ending for them.
That’s the thing about this show, it gives you characters you find yourself really caring about and several little side stories just as compelling as the main arc. It also gives you great songs, plenty of laugh out loud moments, colourful sets and costumes, and so much pie that I felt hungry all the way through!
If you’re lucky enough to have a daughter, and I am, this is a great show to watch with her, and we both find ourselves feeling a bit emotional at times.
For further information, and to book tickets, visit atgtickets.com/waitress/bristol-hippodrome/.
Photo: Chelsea Halfpenny ‘Jenna’ by Johan Persson