Tag Archives: Lorna Gayle

Platters and Matters


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.

Unlike father unlike son: Lenny Henry and Larrington Walker

Unlike father unlike son: Lenny Henry and Larrington Walker Photo: Robert Day

Rat’s Tale


The Old Rep, Birmingham, Saturday 2nd March, 2013


Philip Pullman’s enchanting story is brought to life in this adaptation for the stage by Teresa Ludovico, who also directs.  The story has a fairytale feel and there are also elements of Oliver Twist and Pinocchio.  It begins when a peaceful evening of sharing stories from the newspaper (Bob and Joan reminded me of a West Indian Meg and Petey in Pinter’s The Birthday Party) is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a boy, dressed as a footman.  The boy has a peculiar type of amnesia.  He can only claim “I was a rat!” and knows nothing of table manners or the wide world in general.  The old couple consult a range of authorities: legal, medical, educational, before deciding they will adopt the strange boy for themselves.  Except it is too late.  Trouble at school means the boy, now named Roger, goes on the run.  The media – namely a newspaper called the Daily Scourge – stirs up public opinion against him, and before long people are in fear of the ‘monster’ among them.  Roger falls in with the wrong sorts (circus folk and criminals) and is captured and put on trial for his life.

It’s fast-moving, inventive fun with the emphasis on the agility and versatility of the performers, who dash around and move like a commedia dell’arte troupe, using grotesque masks and mime to enhance their physicalisation of a range of characters.   Tyrone Huggins and Lorna Gayle are endearing as the caring old married couple, not too old to have a snowball fight when the mood takes them.  Christopher Dingli amuses as the bureaucratic stickler in City Hall, Dodger Phillips is a grotesque dame as ringmaster’s wife Mrs Tapscrew, complete with a frock that resembles the big top; and Jack Jones is hilarious as Mrs Cribbins.  This is not a show about subtlety and is all the better for it.  TJ Holmes’s Philosopher Royal brings a touch of the Absurd, rather like Alice’s Caterpillar with his musings and pronouncements.  Menace comes from Joey Hickman’s burglar Billy.

There is no scenery: spaces are delineated by lighting.  High chairs are wheeled on and off for characters of high status.  The cast mime most of the props while helpful hands appear from the wings to provide sound effects.  It all seems simple but it’s inventive and above all, theatrical.  David Watson’s English version of the script has more than a hint of satire to it.  As well as the overtly topical lines about the horsemeat scandal, there is a timely nudge to the brouhaha about the media’s portrayal of a ‘plastic princess’ (to borrow Hilary Mantel’s words) – the Princess Aurelia is a puppet, a disembodied manikin’s head with gloves and shoes!   It’s a witty script; a scene in the sewers gives a cheeky nod to Les Mis – there is as much to entertain the adults in the audience as the kids.

Luigi Spezzacatene’s costumes add to the fairytale-cum-Dickensian feel.  The police are flamboyantly Ruritanian. Even the police dog gets an extravagant uniform.  The rats are simply portrayed through movement but their flashlight eyes lend them an air of otherness.

The undoubted star of the piece is Fox Jackson-Keen as ex-rat Roger.  A charming portrayal of an innocent abroad in a wicked world on one hand; on the other, a dazzling display of dance and gymnastic, acrobatic ability.  His ‘circus act’s tops the show.

The happy ending is satisfying but so understated it lacks emotional punch;  nevertheless you will be hard-pressed to find a more energetically entertaining family show currently on the circuit.

Roger (Fox Jackson-Keen) is put through his paces by nasty circus owner Tapscrew (Christopher Dingli)

Roger (Fox Jackson-Keen) is put through his paces by nasty circus owner Tapscrew (Christopher Dingli)