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Sex Chips & Rock’n’Roll

Published on July 1st 2005.

By Debbie Horsfield and Hereward Kaye

The second preview. A gloomy Thursday night. The theatre was packed. An excited buzz from a very expectant audience.

A new era of musicals with a Manchester stamp was about to happen. Tremble with fear Trevor Peacock, Alan Price et al. Another ‘Andy Capp’ was to unfold before our eyes.

Now picture a pastiche of every 60s nostalgia play or film you have ever seen. Imagine ‘Grease’ filmed at Manchester High School or Deansgate masquerading as the Champs Elysees. Stereotype after stereotype bestrode the stage like a colussus.

OK, now we can now start….

The play traverses different musical styles in an attempt to be all embracing. It fails to evoke the 60s. It fails to create an Eccles which anybody unfamiliar with the town would even remotely recognise. Maybe just the name is funny. It’s queer up north.

Written in a disjointed way, it becomes nothing more than a bundle of clichés rolled into one and then dispersed generally in an effort to find an audience.

The story (if one can call it that) is one of ‘star crossed lovers’, pregnancy, a northern fish and chip magnate (from Eccles… that’s a joke people),an aspiring pop group, with a happy ending. Now you’re hooked, read on.

Presumably aimed at the baby boomer generation it goes from one caricature to the next, never finding any direct route to its target. It has as little to do with Manchester as ‘Boston Legal’. Now there’s an idea” Manchester Legal” a brand new TV series made in Manchester.

The music rarely rises above the average. As there are 23 songs this is a disappointment. No memorable moments either in the words or the music other than the rhyming of ‘nappies’ with ‘crappy’ which is hardly a Cole Porter moment.

There is some good acting by the cast and a quite outstanding virtuoso performance by Emma Williams. She acts and vocalises with great aplomb and her appearances add considerably to the night.

Paul Ryan is very good particularly singing ‘doo wop’. A very enjoyable interlude. Shades of Frankie Avalon in the same glossy suit coming down the stairs in ‘Grease’. The singing was generally acceptable but in view of the musical content it must be of a higher standard. Singing is 90% of the musical.

The performance lacked innovation and creativity. It may be new, but it is definitely no Mancunian concept and resonates with musical ideas and thoughts done by others in a more interesting and articulate way. The strapline in the marketing is misleading: ”A brand new musical made in Manchester” gives a false picture of what is played out before us.

For the sake of fairness, I should add that the audience whooped and cheered throughout and gave a rapturous reception to the cast. I felt most of this audience must be relatives/friends of the actors (I wasn’t and thoroughly enjoyed it! – Pam).

For me it was like returning to school days when at the conclusion of whatever had just passed before my eyes the relief of escape encouraged unbelievable enthusiasm from the assembled multitude, including me.

Richard Burbage

Royal Exchange Theatre till 6th August
St Ann's Square
M2 7DH


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