On the stage is a table holding Tabasco, lemon juice, jam and whipped cream amongst other things. There’s a little bench on wheels with various cooking utensils. And a glass of red wine. Out comes Nigella Lawson in her dressing gown for one of her notorious midnight snacks. Raelene Isbester’s Nigella – Love Bites is an ooey, gooey delight.

It’s hard to fathom the hours Isbester spent watching Nigella Lawson to get her mannerisms so clean and well-executed. She wholeheartedly inhabits Nigella. No doubt there are little quirks the audience doesn’t even pick up on. Written by Raelene Isbester, with music and lyrics by Shanon Whitelock, Nigella – Love Bites is an upbeat tribute to everyone’s favourite unintentional sex-goddess of the kitchen.

The words and lyrics are clever and luscious, though need some further work. It seemed odd that a reasonably short cabaret show would spend precious time repeating choruses word-for-word, where it could have gone somewhere else to explore other aspects of story. It would have been good to hear Isbester’s full vocal talent with more challenging music compositions, as it feels like we only got the entree to her full talent.

When Isbester turned her attention to audience participation, she was given a hearty response. She had the crowd laughing, clapping or singing along and even doing suggestive actions. I’ll avoid spoiling who Gregory is, but on opening night, he did a splendid job for Isbester.

At times, it felt like Isbester was performing to the back wall, though audience participation did break down this initial barrier. A bit more eye contact can go a long way in such a small space. Despite this, Isbester brilliantly acted out using (imaginary) cameras 1, 2 and 3 during cooking segments. And boy, that little side-glance of Nigella’s was delivered to perfection.

The biggest downfall for the show is that some familiarity with Nigella Lawson is needed. Some jokes or lines just didn’t land due to the audience not having enough context. Most people will know that Nigella’s cooking shows, and in turn her brand, have been sexualised due to innuendo. Not everyone will know about her first husband, her children, how she came into her career, the court case, the drug allegations, and so on. Without this knowledge, it is still a fun show, though can feel off-balance and make the storyline feel disjointed.

Nigella – Love Bites explores a side of Nigella Lawson not often contemplated by the average person: having to deal with life all while maintaining a certain image. The snap between the sadder songs in the show and performing for “cameras” was at times jarring, though this had a profound impact. It’s difficult to imagine being someone with such a high-profile as Nigella, expected to behave in a certain way, despite having their personal life splayed all over tabloids.

Isbester’s costume was absolutely fabulous. It is true to Nigella’s voluptuousness, accentuating her curves, and she certainly knows how to work it. She works for every laugh and knows how to keep them coming. While the book and lyrics need additional work, the show is a pleasurable night, particularly for those who follow Nigella Lawson. It’s like nibbling on chocolate with some friends and a glass or two of red.

Raelene Isbester’s Nigella – Love Bites is a decadent little show with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek delivery. Isbester has plenty to be proud of in this, the first show she’s written, and will be a formidable character on cabaret stages to come. It’s an exciting time to be Raelene Isbester and life is better with her Nigella.

Nigella – Love Bites is on until 17 July, 2016 at The Butterfly Club.

 

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