Tag Archives: Bob Eaton

Something is Rocking in the State of Denmark


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 6th September, 2016


The title might lead you to expect a jukebox musical but writer-director Bob Eaton’s new piece is all-new, all-original.  Well, up to a point: the plot is lifted from Hamlet and some of the tunes are Ludwig Van B’s.  Eaton also draws on Shakespeare for iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, which give the show a heightened theatricality and also provide the opportunity for some literary gags.  This is Return to the Forbidden Planet meets That’ll Be The Day.   Eaton’s tunes pastiche classic rock and roll hits.  Performed by a talented ensemble of actor-musicians, the songs have an authentic sound and, unlike some jukebox musicals, the songs develop rather than interrupt the plot.

It’s also very funny.

It’s Britain and it’s 1956 and Michael Fletcher is Johnny Hamlet, returning from national service in the RAF to attend his father’s funeral.  His father’s ghost keeps appearing, driving the young man around the bend with his demands for revenge.  Matthew Devitt is in excellent form as the murdered man and he plays a mean guitar – often at the same time.  Young Hamlet adopts a leather jacket and D.A. hairdo as he goes off the rails, while Ophelia (Chloe Edwards-Wood) rebels against her straitlaced father Polonius (Steven Markwick).  Oliver Beamish’s affable Claud reminds me of Boycie at times – and you question if this character could stoop to murdering his brother… Georgina Field’s Gertrude is an energetically common, gorblimey Londoner, bringing a touch of music hall to her songs.   Meanwhile, Larry (Laertes) is dropping hints about his own emotional trials (the handsome Joseph Eaton-Kent, cutting quite a dash); and Niall Kerrigan brings a lot of fun to his role as Teddy boy/wide boy Waltzer.

Patrick Connellan’s set evokes a 1950s dance hall, enhanced by the backdrops of Arnim Friess’s video designs.  Choreography by Beverley Norris-Edmunds adds to the period setting, although for the most part, the cast are playing instruments while moving, acting and singing.

It’s an engaging, amusing show that proves irresistible, tickling the funny bone and setting the toes tapping.  Eaton tempers the nostalgic appeal with touches of social commentary: those who long to return to Britain as it was in the 1950s would do well to be reminded of the unhealthy aspects of the era, from the prevalence of smoking (it was good for you back then!) and the law against homosexuality, to name but two.  Also, “everything was in black and white and there was no Radio 1” – Every cloud!

This is a feel-good Hamlet, if you can imagine such a thing.  On reflection, I wonder if a different title might suit it better: we expect to hear the titular song but it never comes, although what we do get is more than good enough.


Michael Fletcher as Johnny Hamlet (Photo: Robert Day)





Black-and-White Minstrels

THREE MINUTE HEROES – The 2 Tone Musical

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 8th October, 2014

It’s 1979 in Coventry and an amiable group of young people put together a band to play ska. They enjoy moderate success, supporting the likes of The Specials and The Selecter before musical differences split them up. That’s about it, really. Bob Eaton’s script is rich with humour but light on dramatic tension. The band needs a new member? Well, there just happens to be a trombonist passing by…It all seems easy-going and fun. There are many local references and in-jokes, many of which I don’t get, not being a local lad. I don’t feel excluded though: the nostalgia trip from hearing all those songs again and seeing the familiar chequerboard design is enough to keep me engaged.

The second act is darker, with the off-stage rise of the National Front and other assorted dickheads. Here the play becomes rather like Cabaret, with the action interspersed with musical numbers by the onstage band. The fictional band reunites for one last gig to rock against racism, the last flourish of 2 Tone.

The play is more of a party, a celebration of Coventry’s greatest contribution to popular music. All the old greats are given an airing, including Gangsters and Ghost Town by the Specials, and On My Radio by The Selecter: the musicianship is superb. Sheldon Green as Zack delivers the vocal style and energy of the genre perfectly, while most of the laughs come from Conor John Nolan as punk rocker Sean. Joseph Eaton-Kent channels something of Terry Hall in his portrayal of Tim, while Elizah Jackson’s Sonya owes more than a little to Pauline Black. Sarah Workman’s Sharon plays a mean guitar – the actors all contribute to the music and are supported by incredible performers Dan McIntyre on guitar, Joey Hickman – astounding on the trombone – and Aitch Bembridge, one of the original members of The Selecter, on drums.

At the end, the stage becomes a dance floor for the audience and the party atmosphere takes over.  It’s a chance for Coventry to remind itself of past glories – how sickening to think that the evil depicted in the play is still with us today with the EDL, the BNP and UKIP gaining ground. What 2 Tone records gave us is not only a legacy of some great music but also a demonstration of the unifying power of music, along with a reminder that we must enjoy ourselves; it’s later than we think.