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The Glee Club

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 17th Nov 2011 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


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The Glee Club

Darlington Civic Theatre

Hot on the heels of the success of The Pitmen Painters, earlier in the autumn season, Darlington Civic Theatre are this week hosting The Hull Truck Theatre Company’s revival of Richard Cameron’s The Glee Club. Obviously, plays which deal with coalmining sit well with the North East’s industrial heritage but two in the same season is positively inviting comparison.

Unfortunately, The Glee Club does not fare well as a result – and the egotistical claim by Hull Truck’s marketing department, that “if you liked Brassed Off, The Full Monty and The Pitmen Painters, you’ll love this” only adds to the overwhelming disappointment which I felt throughout the piece.

The year is 1962, and Edlington Colliery’s six-strong Glee Club is preparing for their annual Gala performance. Each of the men have problems of their own to contend with, which threaten the overall success of the Gala: union man Jack (Paul Clarkson) is involved in a romantic liaison far beyond his social stratification; Bant (Anthony Clegg) is coming to terms with the fact that his wife has ran off with the tea delivery man; Walt (John Burton) mourns the death of his wife and the fact that his children are being brought up in care; Scobie (Sean McKenzie) juggles the demands of a nagging, heavily pregnant, wife and a rebellious teenage daughter; Colin (Marc Pickering) dreams of pop stardom but is soon forced to grow up fast, and Philip (Michael Chance), a mining engineer and the group’s musical director, is the victim of a blackmail plot which threatens to reveal his homosexuality and irreparably damage his reputation.

The pace drags and the tone of the play feels extremely dated. Yet the male cast deliver fairly solid performances, despite the odds stacked against them in the form of a bleak, sparse set, lack-lustre direction and superfluous bad language and nudity. As previously described, the marketing department’s hyperbolic rhetoric has gone into overdrive, warning audiences to “prepare to have your heartstrings tugged!” In actual fact, all I could feel being tugged was my hair from my head (by the handful!) as I prayed for the final curtain to fall.

We’ve had the perceived pretentions of painting miners (The Pitmen Painters), we’ve had a miner’s son declare his ambition to be a ballet dancer (Billy Elliott) and now we’ve had singing miners – what are we to expect next, flower-arranging coalmen? What theatre really needs is originality – not variations on a theme.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 19 November 2011.

 

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