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Satin 'n' Steel

Amanda Whittington
Coliseum Theatre, Oldham
(2011)

Satin 'n' Steel production photo

Joyce Branagh returns to the Coliseum to direct this two-hander comedy starring two former cast members of the rural TV soap Emmerdale set in the world of northern nightclub singers.

The play begins in the present day as nightclub singing duo Satin 'n' Steel are on the evening of what Vince Steel is calling their comeback but what Teena Satin, now back to Tina White, has planned as their final breakup. Flash back to seven years earlier when veteran entertainer Vince spots young Tina singing at a talent night that he is hosting and asks her to dump her factory job to join his act.

The euphoria of some initial successes has some inevitable personal consequences while they are on the road, but then, after some disappointing jobs, their dreams of hitting London don't go according to plan and something happens to cause their breakup.

Although the play has been updated and relocated to Oldham and despite the vagueness of the scene that the characters inhabit, this still feels like it is stuck in a world of fifteen or twenty years ago. In fact, the whole background of nightclubs, agents, cruise ships, bookings and so on is glossed over so much that it is difficult to believe at all in the world of the play.

This wouldn't be so bad if the play centred on a strongly-focussed study of the relationship between the two main characters, but the story is a string of clichés and obvious plot twists with very little substance. The play was originally written as a ten-minute curtain raiser, and in many ways it is still a ten-minute play stretched very thinly over more than two hours.

Again this would be fine if the play offered some laugh-out-loud popular comedy—popular comedy is one of the staples of the Coliseum and it has a good, loyal audience for it—but although there are some funny lines, a lot of the comedy is also tired, obvious and well-worn.

Matt Healy is the old entertainer Vince who has a winning personality, but though there are some hints at a modern-day version of Osborne's Archie Rice in The Entertainer, he falls on the wrong side of the line between an actor hamming up the comedy to force the laughs and playing a character who is always 'on' and trying to be funny. His singing is a sort of sub-Elvis crooner's voice that many club singers have used and fits in perfectly with the character. Roxanne Pallett, by contrast, is very natural indeed as young Tina / Teena with a very impressive and surprisingly mature and rich singing voice.

A highlight is a sequence in act one that shows the duo's rise through the clubs (not particularly original as it was done in the film of Singin' in the Rain in 1952) in a medley of pop songs put together superbly by musical director Howard Gray. In fact the songs all sound great and lift the atmosphere for a short while, but an attempt to portray Teena's emotional breakdown while singing Elvis's 'Suspicious Minds' isn't set up well enough for it to come over as anything other than a little trite.

But some good performances and some lively music aren't enough to save a script that is short on substance, humour, plot, originality or anything to commend it at all.

To 7th May 2011

Reviewer: David Chadderton