No celebrity embodies the phrase “fame is a fickle friend” more than Lena Zavaroni. Her story is of a young girl from a remote Scottish island being allowed a chance of a lifetime to sing to 20 million people on TV’s biggest show. Through humour, incredible music, and an impressive cast, Lena documents her life, exploring the highs and lows of fame and being in the spotlight.
Lena is a play with songs conceived by BAFTA and OLIVIER award-winner Tim Whitnall and focuses on the life of Scottish singer Lena Zavaroni. Lina’s story begins in the 1970s when she auditioned for the TV talent show, Opportunity Knocks. Her performance led to a real “Susan Boyle” moment where viewers couldn’t believe the talent of this 10-year-old young girl. Each week Lina won the studio vote and eventually released No.1 records, becoming a child superstar.
Her career after this point went from strength to strength, headlining the London Palladium, performing with Frank Sinatra, and having her TV show. Her long-term troubles with Anorexia nervosa are explored sensitively in this production, showing the lengths Lena would go to try and combat the illness, which sadly led to her downfall. This show is a brilliant play with music with a powerful story, moving performances, and a real lesson about what fame can do to people.
Throughout the show, you meet the many characters that shaped Lena’s life. Lena played by “Erin Armstrong” is a brilliant study of the singing songstress. Through her performance, she becomes Lina at different ages and stages of her life. Erin has beautiful vocals and is a great all-around performer. Her ability to shine in the brighter moments in Lena’s life, including singing Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me) and connecting with the audience during the play's more emotional moments is first-class. Her relationship with her dad, Victor Zavaroni, played brilliantly by Alan McHugh, is very strong. Both actors are very realistic in their father-daughter dynamic. Her, at times difficult relationship with her mother Hilda Zavaroni played by Julie Coombe is well acted by Julie and is very believable. The wiring allows Hilda to come to life and is very multifaceted in showing her love for her daughter, but always dreams of having her moment in the spotlight.
The characterisation is also strong in Jon Culshaw's interpretation of Opportunity Knocks TV host, Hughie Green. Culshaw is famous for his impressions of famous faces, but I feel this goes above and beyond that. The cast is finished off by Helen Logan who excellently plays the agent of Lena, Dorothy Solomon. Her role is one of putting business and money above the health and well-being of Lena. The audience can make up their mind if she is a heroine or a villain.
As the audience jumps to their feet as the play concludes, you know this show is set to be a huge success this festival and will likely go on to even bigger things. Lena deserves a further run and a bigger venue, and expect this to be just the start of Lena’s journey.
Lena runs at Assembly George Square until the 28th of August. Book tickets here: https://assemblyfestival.com/whats-on/lena