The Glee Club
1962 was the end of an era in musical terms as 1913 was in a global sense. It was also a watershed as the swinging sixties overtook post-war austerity in England as a whole. This is exemplified in Richard Cameron's poignant comedy of life in and around the Yorkshire pits.
The Glee Club is a six man musical group who sing to escape from their wives and their dreary subterranean lives. They are led by the rather precious pianist, Philip, played very sensitively by David Bamber. He is an engineer and therefore a step up the social ladder from his rougher coalface-based singers.
This is really a play about the end of an era and a special type of male camaraderie. Through thick and thin the men are willing to back each other up as they have done for almost twenty years. However the winds of change are blowing and when problems arise, dissension begins to break in.
First, Philip is accused of stealing money and of committing the crime of being a homosexual. In red-blooded Yorkshire, this is too much to take and he soon suffers a pit "accident". In turn, the other five follow the words of one of their best-rendered songs, "You always hurt the one you love".
David Schofield as Bant, short for Bantam, struts around as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his wife. This is the consequence of trying too hard to please. The young man, Oliver Jackson, who is the link between the old and the new believes that he will be the next Billy Fury. So does his girlfriend with tragic consequences.
There are enough affairs, abortions and abandonments to bring a tear to the eye. Through all of this the men keep singing and wisecracking. This is best exemplified by a hilarious song about the ways in which they entertain themselves when alone.
The ensemble all give good performances under the tight direction of the Gate's Mike Bradwell and the frenetic pace is maintained throughout. Richard Cameron's attention to detail gives a real sense of place and particularly time as do the songs which are generally sung with a humorous detachment..
The underlying idea may not be entirely revolutionary as it is something of a cross between Privates on Parade and The Full Monty. This does not detract from the wry humour and the poignant portrayal of the tensions that build between a group of men who know each other as well as they know their wives.
The Glee Club has already been a major success at the Bush. If the Press Night at the Duchess is anything to go by, this transfer could be a sell-out too. Four curtain calls and an encore tell their own tale.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher