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.