We’ve seen the coverage, the outpourings of grief on social media and the countless obituaries in newspapers. People have tried hard to sum up who Victoria Wood was. Some said she was a comedian for women, other have described her as an inspiration to female comedians.
We have rewatched her 2002 DVD release, Victoria at the Albert Live, and wanted to pay our own tribute to a performer that should not be categorised so lightly.
What’s great about the 2002 show is that Wood is at what seems like the height of her powers. She’s old enough to have the middle-aged weariness which she parades with glee, and yet she’s also an energetic firecracker of a performer – brandishing her distinctive floppy hair around the gleefully received punchlines.
At 48, Victoria Wood was already a national treasure, hiding a lot of her talent behind a self-effacing persona. She makes it look easy.
To concentrate on gender when rating Wood as a comedian is utterly pointless. Anyone who can hold an audience in such rapture, and make them love her, and still seem just as funny and relevant 15 years later, is very special indeed. Her show is a textbook of perfect comedy writing and performance.
Wood is known for a lot of things which underrate her. She is often assumed to be just the writer behind Julie Walters’ most distinctive comic performances. Though Walters is one of the funniest performers ever to grace stage or screen, her relationship with Wood seems, in hindsight, another smart bit of misdirection by Victoria Wood.
When you’re focusing on Julie Walters, you’re distracted from the equally outstanding performer next to her in Wood.
Indeed, in the original line-up of Acorn Antiques The Musical, Wood replaced Julie Walters as Mrs Overall in a couple of performances each week. You have to be a special performer to stand in those shoes.
Similarly, the daft songs for which Wood is remembered, seem to be just that – silly comic songs. But you don’t need to dig too deeply to discover the craftsmanship that went into them.
In Victoria at the Albert, a twisted love song, which most performers would stop after a couple of choruses, keeps going and going, with relentlessly funny imagery and inventive wordplay – she even fits in some business with the keyboardist to keep character as she delivers the routine.
Despite seeming at the top of her game in 2002, Wood went on to more ambitious and arguably more successful endeavours.
Her Acorn Antiques musical was a huge success on the West End and was peppered with thoughtful takes on the Broadway and West End musical genre. Her musical drama – That Day We Sang – was wistful, thoughtful and musically on a par with Sondheim.
The nation has lost one of its finest talents.