Reviews and audience feedback


“My Friend Lester at the Dukebox Theatre is anchored on the achingly wistful, lean tenor sax playing of Dahlberg. The piece combines music with informed speculation about the nature of the relationship between Young and Holiday. The ballads (which form a narrative themselves and have been grouped deftly) are interspersed with biographical detail, some of it verbatim material from interviews. Neither performer tries to mimic their persona (in the case of Dahlberg it would be ridiculous since he’s white) but the affinity is unquestionable. This is a tribute to a romance, with the performers keeping a respectful distance from their subjects while showing insight and integrity. They appreciate that Young and Holiday both knew they were comets following brief self-destructive paths and were suspicious of contemporaries who in any way imitated them. McAteer, who wrote the play script, has a deeper and more velvety voice than her idol and a distinctive touch with phrasing. Dahlberg, a shade more melancholic than Young, swoops around her as playfully as a dolphin. They’re not in thrall to the material and prove willing to change the tempo of even the best-known numbers in the catalogue. The pair quote their heroes’ determination only to play music that related directly to their life experience and you feel that the piece is an authentic enterprise all round. This is a fine tribute to two prodigious talents whose lives were soon dented by addiction. My Friend Lester deserves to be performed at a larger venue and possibly with a full band.”
Jeremy Malles of Plays International

“The chemistry between these two talented performers I can only feel was akin to the chemistry that existed between Lester Young and Billie Holiday herself…. A must see…..dont miss it!” – 5 stars
Anousha Davies of LoveFringe

“A very enjoyable piece of theatre with the added privilege of offering beautiful music by talented musicians, a sure-fire success in any Holiday fan’s eyes.”
Lois Zoppi of Broadway Baby

“My Friend Lester is a special piece of theatre. It has the ability to entertain, inform and particularly impressive to me – reflect on not only the relationship between Billie and Lester but one’s own relationships with “The one that got away”. The writing is crisp and sparse.The music is earthy and soulful and the acting simple and profound. The direction in such an intimate space is wonderful, repetition of looks and staging made me feel reassured and yet able to follow with growing pleasure the craft of precise, straightforward storytelling. The duality of this truly fine piece means that I was included and yet given the space to appreciate. The relationship between text, music, character and audience is quite brilliant.”
Gary Lagden (Actor, Director)

“I’m a grown man but I wept when Maria sang Strange Fruit – the passion and drama of that hour and a bit at the Observer Building will stay with me for a long time. In 1959 Charlie Mingus improvised what is now a classic: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, when he heard, while on stage, that Lester had died. The passion that Lester inspired in a whole cohort of jazz pioneers (including my beloved Coltrane) was fully expressed in this show. Great acting, great singing, great and expressive sax playing.”
Craig Sams

“Ive seen some of the greats: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie…I have to tell you I’m very picky and also have to tell you that this show is up there with the greats…for me it was absolutely PERFECT!”
Peter Favier

“Absolutely brilliant !!! Made me laugh, cry, sent shivers down my spine, what more could you ask for. This deserves to be on a much bigger stage. Well done to all involved.”
Michael Timothy (Massive Attack, Dexys Midnight Runners)

“This moving evocation of a friendship which seems to have been played out through their work alone reinvents musical cabaret.”
Hope Wisechild (from her preview in Brighton and Hove Free Press)

“This show is absolutely brilliant. I am a massive fan, I have seen it 5 times and every time I am totally moved by it. Maria McAteer becomes Billie in front of your eyes and steals your heart, Björn Dahlberg’s talent totally transports you. It really is such a special production, GO SEE IT!”
Laura Nixon (of Alive And Swinging)

“I saw it at the Marlborough and it had me in tears throughout, although there’s plenty of smiles too. It is a great story and the way it is told in this production brings it to life in a simple yet effective way. Maria and Bjorn become the characters, without having to look or sound exactly like them, the dialogue is well chosen, so too the songs, well performed, timed and choreographed, hits the emotional buttons for sure, go see.”
Daniel Rehahn

“Loved the show! One gorgeous creative partnership mirroring and complimenting another.”
Mark Kydd (Actor, playwright)

“I saw the show last year and absolutely loved it. It was beautifully performed by Maria and Björn and very emotional. I’ve always been a big fan of Billie Holiday and to get a glimpse of her relationship with Lester Young was very touching and convincingly brought accross. Good luck with the upcoming performances, I will definitely recommend the play to friends. Thank you!”
Karine Hellmeier