The Glee Club
Stockroom Theatre and Theatre by the Lake
March 15-19, 2022; 2hrs 30min
You expect a jolly bit of raucous fun among the South Yorkshire miners in Richard Cameron's 2002 musical play. And you mostly get it.
Set in a sort of twilight zone between the tail of the Fifties and the bright new world of Sixties pop, Cameron depicts a Yorkshire miners' glee club - miners who entertain, sing close-harmony, specialise in the sort of material Mario Lanza and Perry Como sang, and generally don't know the Beatles are just over the horizon.
Not that it matters. Music here is really only the means by which the gang comes together away from the coalface, and provides nostalgic interludes from talented vocalists in breaks in the dialogue. There's a funny rendering of the Rawhide theme, for example, and a nice Feniculi, Fenicula; though one or two of the other songs get lyrics that wouldn't have been allowed on the Home Service...
The play's real meat and two veg (as opposed to the other kind, seen in the shower scenes), is sex and relationships. This close-knit group of miners (and mine engineer Phil, the pianist), packs in the bantering, the light-hearted roasting and the familial and unwanted advice that all male groups of friends will understand, but slowly implodes in front of us because of each man's private life.
There's Walt (Dan Bottomley), whose wife died, leaving him to guiltily farm out to others to raise his kids and now involved with the widow next door, who has her own family. There's Scobie (Robert Jackson), whose wife has produced their umpteenth child and whose 15-year-old eldest daughter is causing him strife, and Jack, the former union rep admired by all, who is having an affair with the local doctor's daughter/
Then there is Colin (Linford Johnson), who dreams of pop stardom but has his girlfriend's unwanted pregnancy to cope with first; Bantam (Jack Lord), who as his nickname implies, is a cocky but loyal hard man besotted with, but cuckolded by, his wife, and finally Phil (Eamonn Riley), accused, probably unjustly, of being too attentive to the choirboys.
Phil is the catalyst of the implosion when the various stresses under which his friends are living start to crack with his admission that he is gay. This is 1962 and these are tough, no-nonsense miners, after all.
Stockroom's production (when they started to perform it the company was still called Out of Joint), is marked by fine acting and singing throughout, but especially from Lord, Jackson and Riley.
Kate Wasserberg's production has a slightly muted first half though, not helped by the static (but effective) pit-head set by Mark Bailey, and a second half that begins to drag a little as revelation follows revelation and lightness disappears.
We might expect from the subject and the title that the evening will end, like countless other shows, with a crowd-pleasing recreation of the gala we hear is on the way throughout the evening, and some finely-rendered, go-home-smiling tunes. Our expectation would be incorrect.
A generally fine evening it turns out to be, but we have to mine for it
Tickets and info here