The Glee Club
Library Theatre, Manchester
Roger Haines directs Richard Cameron's look back to the very start of the 60s, that now-iconic decade, when conventional attitudes to music, work, youth, authority, women and sexuality were starting to be seriously challenged.
The Glee Club is a group of miners who, in their spare time, tour working men's clubs as a close-harmony singing group, but much of their rehearsal time seems to be spent sorting out their various marital troubles rather than singing. Youngster Colin has his heart set on a career in rock 'n' roll, but this conflicts sometimes with his relationship; Scobie is (at the start) about to have his fourth child, which he is convinced will be a boy after having three girls; Walt is a widower in search of companionship and guilty that other people are looking after his three children; loyal Bant is bitter about his wife leaving him and spends his time persecuting her new partner; Jack is suspected of 'playing away' with the doctor's daughter; Philip is anonymously accused of having an unhealthy interest in the church's choirboys.
The play mostly consists of the banter between the members of the group in different locations from the rehearsal room to the streets to the showers at the pit. Sometimes, their stories about what has happened to them are acted out for the rest of the group with some of them playing the other people referred to in the story, which always looks a little staged and doesn't quite fit in with the naturalism of the rest of the play. In fact there is rather too much movement and forced jollity in a few scenes; in some, it seems that everyone crosses the stage each time they say a line.
However the play keeps a good pace throughout, is funny and entertaining and has some impressive and occasionally quite beautiful singing, although there aren't a great number of songs. We only get a small glimpse into the stories of each of the characters, which is just enough to care a little about their troubles but not enough to really empathise with any of them.
John Elkington gives a very natural performance as Scobie, as does Jack Lord as Walt, who always looks just a little lonely even when he is part of the group. Philip Cox makes Bant into an obsessive and sometimes obnoxious drunk but fiercely loyal to those he cares about. Stephen McGann plays Jack as a bit of a peacemaker, standing a little apart from the banter and secretive about his own private life, and Robert Emms seems to have based his facial mannerisms, as well as his hair, on a young Tommy Steele. Andrew Whitehead as pianist Philip does his best to keep the group together but is never really 'one of the lads'.
Judith Croft has come up with an ingenious set design, based mostly on dirty brickwork but with large set pieces that come swinging in for the rehearsal room and the showers, producing some very impressive quick changes on the tiny Library stage.
It was a shame that so few people had braved the torrential rain to see the reviewed performance as it is quite a good antidote to the Manchester weather. The play is a reasonably-convincing slice of working-class life from a time and place that was starting to see great changes with much bigger ones to come, and while it doesn't deal with the issues it raises in any great depth, there is enough comedy, warmth and human interest in the stories to keep them interesting and entertaining, plus a few great songs.
Until 18th October
Reviewer: David Chadderton