RUDY’S RARE RECORDS
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 9th September, 2014
Initially a sitcom on BBC Radio 4, Rudy’s Rare Records gets the full stage treatment in this new incarnation at Birmingham’s REP theatre. Set in an old-school, old-fashioned and mouldering record shop, it is mostly about family dynamics, especially the relationships of men across the generations. Lenny Henry is Adam, a middle-aged divorcee with middle-class pretensions who returns to Handsworth to care for his aged and ailing father Rudy (Larrington Walker) but lifelong tensions are never far from the surface. Add to the mix, Adam’s son Richie (Joivan Wade) who is dropping out of university and the scene is set for some lambasting rows – with some very funny putdowns and mickey-taking. Danny Robins’s script is rich with one-liners and sparkling with wit, and he shares them out equally between his main three and the other characters. We meet Tasha (Natasha Godfrey) perhaps the world’s only black Goth, florist Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon) and Rudy’s on-and-off-again girlfriend Doreen (Lorna Gayle). It’s a fine ensemble of very strong performances.
There is an almost constant accompanying soundtrack, performed live by an excellent quartet in the backroom of Rudy’s shop and often the characters break out into song – the songs I remember from the jukebox in my dad’s Dudley pub. Nostalgia is a theme: how can record shops like this compete with iTunes and Amazon, the question is asked, ‘when we pay tax!’ The script has a satirical edge and dark notes of political and social commentary. We have survived racism, they declare, but now the old hatred is rising again only this time it’s called ‘migration’. Comments like this give the setting a reality but the emphasis is on the personal rather than the political. We can’t help liking these people because of the fun they provide so anything that threatens or upsets them from outside there little bubble, these unseen off-stage villains, we are immediately against. Within the bubble the inter-character conflicts touch us too: There is a smashing version of No, No, No by the frustrated and heartbroken Doreen.
The emphasis though is on the fun – they’re a lovely bunch with whom to spend some time. It takes a long time for the plot to get going – there is talk of developers wishing to buy up all the local businesses, Rudy is defiantly neglecting his debts – but all the tension is packed into the last ten minutes of a lengthy first act. The second act is mainly a rooftop fundraising concert, with Lenny Henry’s character stepping up and giving us a treat of a rendition of The Israelites.
Music is of course the raison d’etre of the shop and becomes the glue that binds the community and the family together. It’s no surprise there is a happy resolution to all the conflicts – this is still sitcom territory, after all. On the whole, the show is a joyous affair that makes you laugh out loud. So what if you can’t catch every single word of Rudy’s patois – the tone and delivery are clear enough (one of the characters observes that Rudy’s appearance on local TV had to be subtitled!) – and there are heart-warming moments that keep on the right side of sentimentality. Henry, Walker and Wade make a volatile but lovable family, and they are supported by some fine comic playing by Kissoon, Gayle and Godfrey. A mix of Brummie and Jamaican culture, it is fundamentally a very British piece – we see ‘British values’ (if such things exist!) in action. It’s not just an old record shop at threat in today’s society but a way of life.
With a tighter dramatic structure, the play would really hit home, but for a laugh-a-minute, ultimately touching night out, you’d be hard-pressed to find better.