In what would have been Lena Horne’s centenary year, writer and star Camilla Beeput (under the direction of Maxwell Golden) brings her biography to the modern eye in ‘Stormy: The Life of Lena Horne’ at the Norwich Playhouse. Horne, famous for her parts in ‘Cabin in the Sky’ and ‘Stormy Weather’, never played a leading lady in Hollywood. However, as the first actress to break from Hollywood’s typecasting of black people as maids and slaves, she defied social boundaries that continue to repress today.
‘Stormy’ presents the battling forces of Horne’s conflicting desire to act in a white-dominated Hollywood, yet still maintain her identity as a black woman. With nothing to prompt her but the change in music, Beeput portrays a myriad of characters, each a magnet influencing the sway of Horne’s compass. She springs strategically between roles: from a stardom-seeking mother’s envy to a loving father’s fiery bravado; a jeering sea of white faces, the contrasting ecstasy of fans at seeing a face like their own. The jazz band was spectacular; my heart malleable to the music as it swooped from aching unease to euphoric glory. Spellbinding.
Tempestuous, bewitching, crackling with electricity
The plot development was at times slow, as one would expect from a show reflecting on the past of a single character. However, Beeput’s theatrical retelling brought it to life: her sardonic glamour in presenting the reality of the Civil Rights Movement – a jarring necessity- made her character all the more human. Laughing in the face of aversion, she gilds the horrors Horne had to face in the actress’s sultry satire.
Before taking my seat, Lena Horne was a face, a name. Beeput’s portrayal gave her spirit, and left me in awe. Tempestuous, bewitching, crackling with electricity, the title ‘Stormy’ is befitting not only of Horne, but of the show itself.
Our Young Ambassador programme, launched in 2016, aims for every school in Norfolk to have a UNESCO City of Literature champion. These ambassadors share a love of reading, writing and books in their schools and local communities and spread the word of Norwich as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.