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.