The Glee Club has arrived in the West End after an extended sell-out run at the Bush Theatre. Set in the summer of 1962 the story concerns the lives of five miners and a Church Organist that sing variety hall music songs in working men clubs. We meet the six men as they prepare for their annual appearance at the local Gala.
Phil the Church Organist is trying to cope with being a homosexual in a small Yorkshire mining village at a time when there was little acceptance or toleration of sexual minorities. He is kicked out of the Church because of rumours of “touching” choirboys. However, due to the encouragement of his friends he tries to face up to his accusers by refusing to run away. Amongst the men there are a mixture of reactions to Phil when he finally confesses to being a ‘dormant’ homosexual.
Colin the youngest member of the group longs to be a pop star and his girlfriend makes a terrible sacrifice to aid him in his efforts. Bant is not able to get on with his life after being deserted by his wife. Jack, though married, flirts with the doctor’s daughter, and Walt is a broken man after the death of his wife and no longer being able to provide a family home for his children. Only Scobie seems to be content with his life.
There is very little 'glee' in the lives of these six men and each of them is changed by the events of that summer. Towards the end of the play the men sing “You always hurt the one you love, the one you should not hurt at all”, and each of them in their own way have hurt or been hurt by those they love.
This is a strong play about male comradeship and working class culture. These men try to remain loyal to each other and one can feel the sense of pain and betrayal they feel when social norms and conventions prevent them from doing so.
This is a strong cast and all the men perform well. David Bamber is particularly good as the timid and agitated Phil. The best performance however has to go to David Schofield as Bant. He brings humour and warmth to his character and one can feel the strength of his loyalty and convictions, which enable you to see past Bant’s obvious weaknesses.
Next review by Tom Keatinge
Richard Cameron’s new play, The Glee Club, now at the Duchess Theatre having transferred from The Bush, is a warm and poignant production, showcasing some terrific acting and accomplished singing. The play is set in a Yorkshire mining community in 1962, in a time when the grit and camaraderie of the colliery still survived, and the pit was the community. Yet it was also a time of change; change in values, change in musical taste and change in the lives of the characters we meet in the play. The eponymous Glee Club is a group of talented singing miners who share a passion for performance, and for whom preparation for the annual miners’ Gala provides a common goal. Their music hall variety performance has been a great success in the past, and they long for their moment of glory in their roped-off section of field once again. But whilst all seems serene and in harmony within the Club, their lives beyond the music are tortuous and full of discord, influenced by strongly held morals, poverty, and a deeply disturbing secret that will ultimately smash their unity, despite their love of the music.
I must say that as the play opened I wondered if what I was about to witness was Brassed Off without the brass, or an incomplete Full Monty, however the intimacy of the theatre, the proximity of the players and the uniform strength of the cast ensured that this was to be a very different experience. Yes it contains the same mixture of the comical and the tragic, but somehow The Glee Club brought a greater intensity to the story. To single out any one performance is not to raise it above the strength of the ensemble, because this is genuinely one of the best ensemble works I have seen for a long time, however Oliver Jackson as the young interloper Colin, with dreams of stardom but with all the same problems witnessed through life by his seniors, was particularly notable for his acting and singing talent, and the way in which he portrayed the changes that were encircling the colliery life. Impressive too was David Bamber as the group’s Musical Director Phil, whose life long devotion to the church organ is about to unravel.
The Glee Club is a wonderfully enjoyable piece of new writing, mixing musical entertainment and great performances from the whole cast, with the harsh reality of pit town life – a great production to be highly recommended.
What other critics had to say.....
DARREN DALGLISH says, "The drama only gains momentum after the interval, but nevertheless it is still an average affair. " RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Richard Cameron's play is comic yet touching, with plenty of local colour and bittersweet nostalgia." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A cracking new play cast and directed to the highest possible standards. Richard Cameron's drama has all the hallmarks of a hugely appealing popular hit." RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, " The emotional power of the evening can be gauged by the songs' performances, which initially provoke giggles but end up forging a hotline to the heart. "
External links to full reviews from newspapers... (from the run at the Bush Theatre)