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The Glee Club at the Library Theatre

Nicola Mostyn spends an evening with six naked men

Published on September 25th 2008.

The Glee Club at the Library Theatre

In 1962 six miners spend their working hours risking their lives in a Yorkshire colliery and their drinking time as members of local miners’ choir, the Glee Club, practising songs, exchanging banter and preparing for the annual Gala.

They’re a rough, likeable bunch: there’s new father Scobie (John Elkington), young, wannabe popstar Colin (Robert Emms), the belligerent Bant (Philip Cox) whose wife has left him for the Rington's tea man, family man Jack (Stephen McGann), widow Walt (Jack Lord) who has sent his children away to be cared for, and troubled pianist Phil (Andrew Whitehead) who is protecting a secret which is set to impact on this happy band.

As the six practice their routines and enjoy lively and raucous conversations, it’s clear that their rehearsal hours are a valuable pocket of time out from work and home. But as their personal affairs threaten to penetrate this male-only haven, the giddy atmosphere and knockabout humour begins to show cracks. Can their friendship and their choir survive these changing times?

The Glee Club, directed by Roger Haines, is a proper northern, nostalgic production. Set during a time when women were “pieces”, records were played on a dansette and people listened to Radio Luxembourg, the play..ahem..mines this comedic vein well. It uses plenty of gutsy, sonorous dialect, evocative details from the past and comedy dance numbers involving the men rolling up their trouser legs and tying on grass skirts and coconut boobs. In truth, it can get a little It Ain’t Half Hot Mum…

But while it might be a bit hokey for some tastes, this initially goodhearted, ebullient atmosphere serves as a neat foil to the darker elements of the play which before long seep out into the gaps between the men’s friendships.

The Glee Club is an all-male production and these six do an excellent job of telling the story, not only of what happens on stage, but also what happens off it. Conversations and confrontations are reconstructed by the men in comedy set pieces of song and dance, fleshing out their worlds and evolving the miners full, believable characters.

The cast are excellent and embrace their roles with gusto. They convincingly explore the territory of male friendship back in the sixties – the closeness, the lines that can’t be crossed, the constant ribbing set against the evident love between them. The latter is a contrast echoed by the way the men often use beautiful songs to showcase their coarse humour.

With much of the play comprised of conversations between the men, the set has been designed to maximise this: one half of the scenes take place practising around the piano, the rest in the shower room as the men return from the pit. This does involve some quite unexpected sights. In fact, if full male nudity isn’t your thing, you may want to concentrate on your Minstrels at this point. Although would you really want to miss the sight of a McGann brother naked?

Throughout the play the “young upstart” Colin intermittently narrates from some point in the future, filling in some of the events and motivations to explain what happened to The Glee Club. This technique, plus the use of set pieces, reconstructions and high tempo songs means the whole production comes across as a patchwork of entertainment, a gala show in itself. If you have a penchant for such things, you won’t go home disappointed.

The Glee Club, until 18 October, the Library Theatre, St Peter’s Square, Manchester. 0161 236 7110. www.librarytheatre.com

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