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Up on the Roof (tour – Ipswich)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Nostalgia is sailing across lots of stages these days, especially nostalgia for the popular music of past decades. Up on the Roof is the latest show in this particular flotilla to beach in the south-east. It’s a co-production between Oldham’s Coliseum Theatre, the New Wolsey in Ipswich and Anvil Arts in Basingstoke. Simon Moore and Jane Prowse have developed the script from improvisations and an earlier production.

The story concerns five friends who we first meet in 1975 as they graduate – with different levels of success – from Hull University. Five years on we meet them again, this time at a wedding reception. Fast forward a further five years and they gather in the south of France. A brief coda shows the difference just twelve months can make to people’s lives.

So much for time, place and characters – including several who we never meet in the flesh. While at university our five had formed an a cappella singing group, practising on the roof of their shared student house, and its repertoire weaves in and out of the action, particularly during the first act. At this point, the young people are almost just student archetypes – the earnest artist Bryony, dungaree-clad activist Angela, ambitious group leader Scott, laid-back Tim and joker Keith.

Time passes and lives shift. Scott’s hopes for a music business career crumble. Tim’s television career hits a problem. Keith has made a fortune. Angela changes from dump to diva. And bryony, having designed herself into a marriage, now makes art out of found-objects both physical and metaphorical.

The acting is a little uneven, with Georgina White’s Bryony and Gavin Spokes’ Keith presenting the most rounded characterisations. Peter Rowe’s production gives the latter a marvellous first entrance as a Womble and Spokes builds on it to ensure that there is no anti-climx thereafter. Stephen Fletcher as Tim is not a particularly sympathetic character, though you can see his attraction for Bryony. Angela can also be ruthless, but Gemma Wardle shows us that there is hard work as well as hard-nosed graft behind her success. Christopher Pizzey makes Tim into just the sort of shallow personality which daytime television embraces so greedily.

As far as the singing is concerned, this is excellent – always in tune and with the voices blending perfectly. Foxton’s triple set design requires some slick stage management – which it gets – and the work of musical director Howard Gray and choreographer Francesca Jaynes has subtlty and keeps the set pieces on the move. From the roof-top in Hull to a southern audience’s enthusiastic enjoyment. It’s quite a journey.

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