Review: Life, Death and Duran Duran – Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 21 2017

Three Stars

The title will no doubt attract fans of a certain age, yearning for the polished sounds of the phenomenally successful new wave band. Yet, while snatches of songs such as Planet Earth and Hungry Like the Wolf make appearances in Sam Shaber’s one-woman show, the emphasis here is very much on the performer’s own eventful life and career. Far from nostalgic, the monologue, directed by Lynn Ferguson, is frank and sometimes surprisingly tough.

Shaber is a singer-songwriter, born of creative stock (her father was the prolific screenwriter David Shaber), who was inspired to pick up a guitar and start writing songs on first noticing Duran Duran when they stormed the US as in the early Eighties. Unlike many aspiring rockers who abandon their musical dreams when the need for a pay check kicks in, Shaber stuck to her vocational guns. She displays her bright, precise vocals on her own compositions here, switching from electric to folk guitar, often neatly seguing into some of her erstwhile idols’ most famous songs.

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Using her dad’s mantra that “anything is possible if you just want it badly enough” as an ironic starting point to the show, Shaber weaves her career as a Duranie with elements of her autobiography, including the deaths of her father and two close friends, and her unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child. Some of these episodes are genuinely traumatic, but Shaber’s warmth and sincerity mean that the show, while emotionally raw, is never maudlin.

 

If there is a downside, it is that the narrative sometimes lacks focus: we meander around Shaber’s story, without alighting on anything more profound than the old John Lennon quote that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. It’s an enjoyable wander, though, and Shaber makes for a very appealing guide.

 

Box office: 0131 622 6552, to August 28

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