Tag Archives: Geoff Thompson

Singing with The Enemy

WE’LL LIVE AND DIE IN THESE TOWNS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 2nd October, 2018

 

Geoff Thompson’s new musical takes its score from the debut album of Coventry band, The Enemy.  Not being familiar with the group or their work, I am able to take the show at face-value, without the jolts of recognition that usually come with jukebox musicals.  Mamma Mia! this ain’t!   Telling the story of front man Argy’s struggle with a sudden, paralysing attack of stage fright on the day of his big homecoming gig, this turns out to be a thoughtful, poignant piece, as Argy embarks on an odyssey to face people from his past life in obscurity and come to terms with issues that have been plaguing him all along.

Thompson’s dialogue has a lyrical quality, which elevates the exchanges, adding to the mystical nature of Argy’s quest for enlightenment.  The show is structured mainly around two-handed scenes, with each person Argy encounters bringing up a different facet of our protagonist’s past.

Quinn Patrick is excellent as Argy’s ailing brother, a lapsed poet, in a bittersweet scene – Patrick later doubles as a comedy vicar for the show’s most spiritual scene.  Julie Mullins (formerly of Neighbours) provides strong support in a couple of roles, making me think how well suited she’d be for the role of Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers… while Steven Serlin makes a strong impression as Argy’s manager and later as former friend, Owl, complete with a creditable Brummie accent.  Mark Turnbull shines as a bearded busker, with the look of the late Chas Hodges and a voice similar to Tom Jones, and Molly-Grace Cutler is suitably bitter and resentful as Argy’s alcoholic sister.  Meg Forgan also steps out of the backing band to portray Megan, thrilled to be namechecked in one of Argy’s songs.

But it is the central performance from Tom Milner as the troubled troubadour that keeps us hooked, in a sensitive, rounded and powerful portrayal, with searing vocals and a charismatic presence.  We sort of know all along Argy’s going to get his act together, but Milner takes us with him on Argy’s journey so that when the gig finally comes it’s a moment of exhilarating release.

It’s all played out on the stylised urban landscape of Patrick Connellan’s concrete block set, backed by projections of local streets and buildings.  Director Hamish Glen balances the humour and the poignancy of each scene; the show is bittersweet but never maudlin.

There are a couple of scenes that could do with trimming in terms of getting their point across but on the whole, this is an intelligent, grown-up piece with a strong, melodic score that proves irresistible by the end.  The onstage band is tight, the cast members uniformly brilliant, making for a thought-provoking and ultimately moving experience.  Argy’s journey seems deeply personal but Thompson’s writing speaks to the artist he believes to reside in each of us.

Electrifying.

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The Enemy within: Argy (Tom Milner) battles his demons (Photo: Robert Day)

 

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Boxing Clever

THE PYRAMID TEXTS

The DOOR, The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 26th May, 2015

 

This one-man piece written by Geoff Thompson concerns a former boxer, now a trainer, with a message to send. He sets up a camcorder on a tripod and this becomes the focus of his attention and delivery throughout the piece. It as though we are eavesdropping, rather than being addressed directly. He says he wanted to write a letter, an important letter, and so he went to a shop to buy the best paper and the best pen but was advised by the shop assistant that he’d be better off putting his feelings on camera – unlikely, unless she was also selling camcorders, but I’ll let that go – His face, she told him, says more than words.

That face is the familiar and famous face of Christopher Fairbank, known for countless appearances on the big and little screen. You may not know his name but you will have seen him in many things. He delivers a charismatic and captivating performance in what turns out to be a very wordy and complex piece. I find his eloquence does not match his professed inability to put his words on paper – he sounds more like a writer than a boxer (no reason, of course, why he can’t be both) and he seems too at ease with the camera, as if he’s recording the latest in a long line of vlogs rather than attempting to deliver the message that has been burning inside him for years. Better, I think, to see him awkward and fumble initially before finding his voice, rather than pontificating about the nobility of the sport he made his profession. It comes across as storytelling rather than a character revealing himself.

Gradually, it emerges who he’s talking to and what he has to say (I’m trying not to spoil it) and, by the end, when we learn why the play has the title it has, Fairbank is packing quite an emotional punch, a roundhouse right to the heart.

Thompson’s script is well-structured and has lyrical qualities but I think it’s a little over-written and a little too clever. Director Michael Vale somehow manages to avoid the ‘action’ being stilted and static (it is, after all, a bloke on a stool addressing a camera) by keeping our focus on Fairbank and his haggard, human face. You leave the studio moved but it’s been a bit of a slog to get there rather than a knockout punch.

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