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The Flannelettes (King's Head)

Richard Cameron's new play takes a look at love and violence in a shattered community with a sound track of sixties soul

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The cast of The Flannelettes
© Francis Loney

The Flannelettes are a group of girl singers (and one honorary man) in a women's refuge centre in South Yorkshire, rehearsing Motown hits of the Shirelles, Ronettes and Supremes for a concert at the miners' welfare club.

The burden of Richard Cameron's play, though, is the interaction between the women, led by Suzan Sylvester's disappointed widow Brenda, and the texture of life, grim and threadbare, in a decimated former pit village.

In that respect, it's less a companion piece to The Full Monty than a miserable epilogue to Cameron's own joyous 2002 play, The Glee Club, which was a nostalgic 1960s recreation of a colliery all-male choir before the decline and closures during the Thatcher years.

Bradwell and Cameron have created something just as poignant, but there's not nearly enough music; the finale in full sheeny drag and scary wigs is a bit sad. Perhaps that's the point: no-one is saved, really, in this play, which is an authentic lament for fractured family life and dislocation in a once homogeneous environment.

Perhaps, too, Cameron has started too many hares for his own good: Brenda's niece, the large and childish Elie (beautifully done by Emma Hook) is a litter lady on her annual visit to the refuge; Roma (a wasted, ravaged and bleary-eyed Holly Campbell), is seriously abused and on the run from a landlord and drugs mini-baron whom we never see; Jean (honest, supportive Celia Robertson) is the "new" girl, just two or three weeks in flight from a violent husband

Their stories don't so much come together as collide abrasively, with increasing input from Jim (James Hornsby), a domestic abuse liaison officer from the police – who, just to complicate matters further, is having an adulterous affair (he's married) with Brenda – and George (Geoff Leesley), a local pawnbroker who remembers when the old cinema in the town wasn't a hoarding opportunity for offensive graffiti ("Oh for the smell of orange peel and Snow White").

With its exterior locations, short scenes and density of atmosphere, the play feels like a film in waiting. As usual, Bradwell has some wonderful actors, and the flavour of this study in grooming, drugs and domestic violence, stemming from economic and social deprivation in the waste land of industrial collapse, is both pungent and depressing.

In some ways, it's a throwback, and curiously old-fashioned. In others, it's an urgent theatrical document that might have been even more complicated and over-stuffed if Cameron had played a race card with reference to the Asian grooming gangs in Rotherham and Birmingham.

The Flannelettes runs at the King's Head until 6 June. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

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