MIF review: Victoria Wood - That Day We Sang
Victoria Wood’s whimsical musical rom-com is full of the comic’s trademark retro-cultural references. And, says Mark Powell, her writing even manages to outshine the beaming smiles of the show’s children’s choir.
It seems somewhat contrary that a dreary ‘70s TV documentary inspired this shamelessly whimsical, Victoria Wood-penned period musical rom-com, but that’s the account given by the quintessentially British writer/comedian regarding the origins of her new MIF production.
The TV piece had revisited several middle-aged adults who, 40 years previously, numbered amongst the Manchester School Children’s Choir on the day it recorded Nymphs and Shepherds with the Hallé Orchestra at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, June 1929.
“The gently satirical script drips with Wood’s trademark retro-culture signposts, never more acutely observed than during a number set at the cramped table of a Berni Inn.”
Set on the eve of decimalisation, That Day We Sang focuses on two fictional protagonists in their mid-50s, both visibly crumpled by four underwhelming decades amongst the rain-lashed Manchester workforce.
Meek, portly Tubby Baker (Vincent Franklin) lived with his mother until her recent death; downtrodden Enid Sutcliffe (Jenna Russell) is a PA stuck in a loveless affair with her chauvinistic married employer.
Reunited by a TV news segment about their 1929 day with the Hallé, the two begin an achingly timid courtship against the backdrop of the grey office towers bordering Piccadilly Gardens.
This song-strewn kitchen sink romance is interspersed with flashbacks – acted and sung by an evidently thrilled cast of local school children – to the day the Free Trade Hall recording was made.
The gently satirical script drips with Wood’s trademark retro-culture signposts, never more acutely observed than during a number set at the cramped table of a Berni Inn. It’s one of a handful of show-stopping song-and-slight-dance moments around which the cast – particularly Lorraine Bruce as gutsy, perma-dieting office assistant Pauline – equip themselves admirably.
Pointedly unfussy staging and live accompaniment from the current Hallé Youth Orchestra both work well to lift the comic references to Swarfega, Black Forest gateau and the redemptive powers of music and memory.
Still, it’s Wood’s palpable influence – mapped out in a deluge of self-effacing nods to Manchester’s socio-cultural history – that competes with the smiles of the reassembled school choir to shine the brightest.
That Day We Sang continues at The Opera House, Manchester, July 8-9, 12-17. mif.co.uk
Images: Lorraine Bruce as Pauline and Vincent Franklin as Tubby Baker; Jenna Russell as Enid Sutcliffe. Photos: Joel Fildes