The Glee Club

Richard Cameron

Bush Theatre/Bolton Octagon at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

(2004)

Review by J. D. Atkinson

Twenty years after the miner's strike, this welcome revival of Richard Cameron's play brings to life the lost culture of Yorkshire's mining communities. In the words of director Mike Bradwell, The Glee Club "is a loud, boozy two fingers to Thatcher and a celebration of a society that she claimed there was no such thing as".

It's 1962 and the members of the Edlington Glee Club, a group of miners who spend their weekends singing at local clubs and charity events, are rehearsing for their upcoming Gala performance. Pianist and musical director Phil (Stefan Bednarczyk), a quiet bachelor still living with his mum, fosters the musical talents of a diverse group of "artistes": the loud-mouthed Bant, deeply humiliated by the fact that after eighteen years of marriage his wife has run off with a tea-delivery man; Walt (Mike Burns), a lonely widower unable to keep his family together after his wife's death; Scobie (Steve Garti), the lone male in a houseful of women and children; Jack (James Hornsby), carrying on a furtive affair with a posh woman who regards him as an amusing bit of rough; and young Colin (Oliver Jackson), a naïve would-be pop star more interested in rock and roll than the show tunes and old-time favourites that make up the Glee Club's repertoire.

There is a widespread tendency to romanticize "the past", that mythical Golden Age (which came to an end roughly four decades before "the present") when Everyone Helped Each Other and You Could Leave Your Front Door Unlocked All Night. Cameron avoids this pitfall, reminding us that in some respects at least the past is another country no-one in their right mind would want to visit. Attitudes to homosexuality are an obvious case in point - when Phil is unjustly accused of molesting boys in the church choir he trains, Scobie almost falls over himself in his eagerness to collect names for a petition in his defence; but when Phil admits that he is a homosexual (and the victim of a blackmail attempt by a malicious ex-boyfriend), Scobie is outraged. Similarly, when Colin's girlfriend becomes pregnant she has no choice but to seek out a backstreet abortionist who leaves her looking "as if she's been dead for a week". So much for the pre-permissive Good Old Days…

Very nearly all human life is here, and there were moments when I couldn't help feeling that Cameron has tried to cram a little too much into a hundred minutes. But such is the conviction and exuberance of the fine ensemble cast that we simply don't have time to dwell on a few minor inconsistencies - they act their hearts out, sing their socks off and remove the rest of their clothes in the shower scene ("Naked Miners Singing"?) The musical numbers are superbly done, and include spirited renditions of "On the Aitchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", "You Always Hurt the One You Love" and "Funiculi, Funicula". Thanks to Cameron's X-rated English version of the latter I can confidently state that never again will I be able to hear the original without laughing out loud! If you can't get to the West Yorkshire Playhouse you have a further seven venues to choose from. Miss The Glee Club at your peril…

West Yorkshire Playhouse until September 18th, then touring to Exeter, Oxford, Warwick, Ipswich, Sevenoaks, Sheffield and Southport