Uncle Eric's Navy Lark!

David Gray
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
(2007)

Publicity graphic

It's forty years since the Marine Offences Act outlawed pirate radio stations and led to the creation of Radio One. The offshore pirates which had been broadcasting round-the-clock pop for three years were forced off the air - apart from the original station, Radio Caroline which carried on broadcasting on its two ships off the Essex coast and off the Isle of Man.

The pirate stations made household names of DJs such as Johnny Walker, Tony Blackburn, Dave Cash and the incomparable Emperor Rosko.

The little-known story of one of the other pirate ships, Radio Madge, and its budding jock Captain Midnight is now being told again thanks to David Graham Entertainment Ltd.

Over the past few years there've been comments about the number of modern musicals that have surfaced and are a tribute to a particular act or a certain style of music. Uncle Eric's Navy Lark! falls into that category. In fact, it probably has the flimsiest plot of any musical I've ever seen.

It's the tale of an out-of-work man who did a bit of DJing in his youth and decides to try for a job on the pirate station, Radio Titanic. He gets the job because they think he's a ship's captain who can sail the boat - not a DJ.

His wife Madge decides on a takeover bid when it's revealed that the staff haven't been paid for three months. That, in a nutshell, is the storyline.

As the musical is set on a radio station, there's no need for any contrived script line to get into the music. The cast of eight simply rattle off two or three at a time live versions of the songs introduced by the DJs.

Uncle Eric's Navy Lark! undoubtedly has its flaws - but that didn't seem to matter to the packed house who applauded every song with gusto and joined in without too much persuasion.

The highlights for me were Gary Skelton's highly amusing portrayal of Dave the stoned, hippie producer; Austin Powers lookalike James Pearson as the stammering would-be DJ Christian Fletcher who gives a terrific rendition of Nights In White Satin; Kirstie Roberts as Maureen Hawkins who superbly handles Cilla Black's You're My World as well as the Ike and Tina Turner classic River Deep Mountain High; and the versatility of the cast, many of whom play more than one instrument.

Uncle Eric's Navy Lark! is almost a summer panto: some of the jokes are old and corny and the humour is a times predictable, especially in the hands of David Gray. Not only did he write the show, he's also director, producer, musical director, plays bass guitar and even sells the programmes before the show and during the interval. He seems to be concentrating to remember his lines on occasions, which means his comic timing suffers.

Occasionally some of the cast don't do justice to the songs, although that would appear to be down to the choice of material in the first place rather than any fault of the singers.

And staging a musical in the round at the New Vic is incredibly difficult as you hear the instrument that's nearest to your seat rather than a rounded, balanced sound.

The tongue-in-cheek show finishes with Mony Mony followed by an encore of Na Ma Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye - two songs virtually guaranteed to get the audience singing and leave them wanting more.

Purists will probably wish that Uncle Eric's Navy Lark! had sunk without trace - but those who saw it at the New Vic on the night I attended left on the crest of a wave.

"Uncle Eric's Navy Lark! " continues until August 25th

Reviewer: Steve Orme