In retrospect I wish I had spent money on the glossy advertisement compendium that is a Birmingham Rep program. I want to know the story of the show. Not what happened, all that would happen was fairly obvious from two minutes in, but how it came to happen. What was the story of the making of?
Was someone inspired by the West End or aspiring too the West End? Was this the first or fiftieth choice? I haven’t been privy to any of the musicals that stitch together a compilation of a successful artist’s hit songs to spawn another hit; do they play fast and lose with original lyrics to meet their needs?
UB40 are almost certainly good blokes and impressively loyal both to each other and their home city. Did they have any hand in what was done to their material for this show? Maybe they are less loyal to that. They may be Balsall Heath boys at heart but surely edgy hasn’t described their work for a couple of decades. Was their cooption part of a notion to draw an audience new to The Rep? I’ve not been to a UB40 gig, but I’d be startled in the demographic is anyone much younger than me.
There’s a tricky etiquette surrounding free tickets but I had no reason to consult Debretts I had desire to leave at any point, even a return after the interval was motivated by curiosity and goodwill more than local politiking. I was both wishing the whole project well whilst paralysed by a morbid fascination.
Afterwards I was left wondering that they couldn’t find a way of cracking open the UB40 catalogue to deliver anything beyond a run of duets that could have been staged on a stage a eighth the size. Maybe they didn’t feel the chorus was strong enough to carry off more than a single number. What was behind the decision not to end the musical on a song? Surely there are some conventions that survive because they work and to ignore them is to invite a damp squib onto your stage. Hell I‘m as reluctant to be emotionally manipulated as the next cynic, and a healthy distrust of group catharsis underlies much of the satire in Lurid and Insane, but even I wanted something a bit more rousing than a limp joke. The Audience were perplexed and the cast were all lined up for their bow before a hand was clapped.
How different it could have been if, rather than the elder statesmen of UB40, The Rep had somehow persuaded Mike Skinner that a stage version of The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free wouldn’t entirely destroy his credibility. It may have been possible. Sarah heard him being interviewed by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.
Skinner’s album is, I think, brilliant. It is already through written as a narrative with a central protagonist and good cast of supporting players. You wouldn’t have to rewrite a word. You’d just play with the arrangements, many numbers could be expanded for a chorus. There are great set pieces waiting to be delivered. There is wit and humour. It’s very nearly current. Rather than the melodrama of Promises and Lies’ crazily fictionalised badlands The landscape of The Streets is full of the edginess of real people’s lives, trying to make it through the week without going broke, trying to make relationships work, trying to make your lives fun and better than they are. You could get a drug dealer in there if you wanted. You could probably also manage a prostitute and a pimp, but not The Rep’s stock cartoon kind, if you really had to. It could be great!
Careful, I’m talking myself into it. Does anyone have Mike’s number?