Review: Shida, The Vaults

The Vaults, the hub of fringe theatre in London, is the new home for Jeannette Bayardelle’s Shida. Fresh from a New York run, Bayardelle’s one woman musical tells the story of Shida and the struggles she faces as a child and young adult growing up in The Bronx during the 1990s. 

Due to the nature of a solo narrative show, Bayardelle is faced with the challenge of multi-rolling Shida’s nearest and dearest. There’s a wide variety of characters. Shida herself (including child Shida), best friend Jackie, Shida’s mother, Shida’s partner Tony and her teacher Ms Smalls. Bayardelle’s expressive vocal and physical choices for each of these characters means that the distinction between them is clear (and the altering of costume seems almost unnecessary). This is of course in part due to Andy Sandberg’s direction, but Bayardelle, who doubles as performer and writer, approaches each element of her performance with endless energy and commitment. It’s evident from the beginning that Bayardelle really cares about the communication of Shida’s story, which makes sense given the show is based on the experiences of Bayardelle’s best friend. 

Bayardelle is undoubtedly a very skillful actor and singer. Supported by a four piece band (Noam Galperin as MD/keyboard player, Dave Rice on bass, Jon Debrusiais on drums, Connor Gallagher on guitar) she navigates a wide variety of vocal stylings from rock to soul to R&B and more. The show is 75 minutes long and, with a song count of 24, very fast paced. At times the pacing becomes a hindrance; the audience are whisked from big moment to big moment without being given the opportunity to process fully what they’ve just seen or heard. It’s fair to assume Bayardelle has good stamina (she originated the role of Cecile in the American tour of The Color Purple), but even she seemingly struggles with the pacing, taking a short water break after a particularly effortful and emotional song. 

After the show, a large majority of the audience leave the auditorium humming various songs from the show.  There are a number of stand-out numbers including ‘Tony Gotta Go’, ‘My Baby’, ‘What Kind of God?’ and ‘Shida Intervention’. In her quest to become a writer, Shida experiences sexual abuse, loss and drug addiction. Each of these topics is confronted head on, but with a great deal of sensitivity. These elements of the show give it heart and substance, qualities which are unfortunately not communicated by the show’s marketing.

Overall, Shida is an excellently constructed show, with moments of humour scattered through a forest of poignancy and emotional vulnerability.

Shida is playing The Vaults until 13 October. For more information and tickets see The Vaults website.