Note: The following review dates from February 2002 and the production's original run at the Bush Theatre.
Take five miners, add a church organist, pour on a few pints and some 1950s ballads and you've got Richard Cameron's charming piece, The Glee Club.
Set in the summer of 1962 in a small mining village in south Yorkshire, the story is loosely narrated by Colin, the youngest of the motley crew, which also consists of: Jack the sensible ex-union rep, Scobie the consummate family man, Walt the pensive widower, Bant the thuggish softie and Phil the bookish organist. There's excitement in the air because the local gala is coming up - which will make a change from the working men's clubs the group normally entertain.
Cameron paints a touching picture of men who risk their lives in the mines every day and who are bolstered up by music and one another. They are a true band of brothers, so when one of their own, Phil, comes up for scrutiny in the community they all have something to say about it.
The story is deftly set up and reinforced by writing that's a heady mix of banter and poignant exchanges, peppered with some rousing tunes (courtesy of musical director Mia Souteriou) - all of which results in a transfixing piece of theatre. Mike Bradwell's direction is also impressive, effortlessly navigating the six actors through the tale.
The audience can hear every note and see every glance in stereo, so there's no margin for error - and none is made. Every performance is real, each relationship with its own nuances, and the group's dynamic gradually changes, like a piece of music, as the characters discover things about themselves and their peers, and slowly begin to mature.
The actors are flawless, each giving an award-worthy performance. My personal favourites are David Schofield, totally convincing as Bant, who makes dick jokes one minute and laments the estrangement of his wife the next. David Bamber is suitably difficult to read as the isolated Phil, different to the other men, yet he inspires incredible loyalty in them all. Don't be fooled, it may be set in a mining village but it's not all sepia-tinted. Admittedly, the first half is dewy-eyed and nostalgic, but after the interval, reality kicks in and tests the men's mettle.
It's not often you get such a full-bodied show that delivers, but the Bush has struck gold with this one - it's a must see. It may be grim up north but The Glee Club will put a smile on your face.
- Hannah Khalil