Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Choir

Lee Mattinson
Encounter Productions, Alnwick Playhouse, ARC Stockton, Arts Centre Washington and Northern Stage
Northern Stage, Newcastle

Donald McBride in Choir
Donald McBride in Choir

What strange places our heads are! There's so much going on in there with fantasy and reality swirling around, mixing together, coming to terms with each other, memory linking with imagined memory... We are such complex creatures.

Francis not only remembers his birth, travelling down a red-painted corridor with a red carpet and talking to his mother after emerging, but also remembers when he was Judy Garland. He remembers the mistakes he made as Judy and his determination not to make them again.

Dressed for most of the time in Judy's red shoes and his own white underpants, this skinny old man talks to us for an hour about his life, his family (his four parents—Judy's and his own!) and how he finds his own identity and companionship, coming to terms with his homosexuality and discovering himself through music.

Donald McBride plays Francis with total conviction, charming us with his gentle openness, under the careful and sympathetic direction of Jen Malarkey on a simple but flexible set (by Chloe Oldridge) backed often by appropriate film clips of Garland (including—obviously—some from The Wizard of Oz).

Our attention never wanders for Lee Mattinson's writing is tight, focused and underscored with a black—at times almost bleak—humour.

There was a party of ladies from a choir in Cramlington in the audience, attracted by the play's title. They didn't really know what to expect, one of them said in the bar afterwards, and what they got surprised them, but they loved it!

Choir tours to Alnwick Playhouse (18 and 19 September) and the Traverse, Edinburgh (26 and 27 September).

Reviewer: Peter Lathan