There are definite parallels with the civil rights movements of the sixties and Trump’s recent travel bans within the late playwright Annie Caulfield’s show- the opener for the Spring season of PPP. So it is timely indeed. When Dusty Springfield refused to play to segregated audiences on a South African tour in the mid-sixties, she came up against apartheid, in the form of some incredibly menacing police official types, who threatened her and her band The Echoes.
A Play, A Pie and a Pint favourite Frances Thorburn portrays Springfield as twofold- Mary O’ Brien, the good, prim Catholic girl, all Chatty Cathy and cups of tea; and as the burgeoning superstar- minxy, stubborn and very much her own woman. So, as a character study with the emphasis on Springfield it’s fine, Thorburn giving the sliver of vulnerability always lurking under that famous heavy eye make-up and those backcombed wigs.
However, Caulfield’s script feels perfunctory at times. Kevin Lennon and Simon Donaldson’s characters are a little underwritten, so it is hard to get a hook into inter-band relationships, or the real danger they faced.A musical should have a little heft to lift it beyond mere entertainment, and with its join-the-dots exposition and occasionally clunky dialogue, it never feels spectacular.
But Thorburn and the duo are consistently excellent all round: the timeless music is of course wonderful- their goosebump-inducing harmonies really elevate the show. An emotionally taut You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and a stripped-back, more downbeat take on Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancin’ in the Street give moments of shivery poignancy. And Son of a Preacher Man nearly raises the roof.Flaws aside, a crowd-pleasing start to the new season.
Images by Leslie Black