Writer &Director: Victoria Wood
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
First a stage commission for the Manchester International Festival in 2011, then a Christmas TV special for the BBC in 2014, Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang now makes the transition to DVD.
Inspired by the real life 1929 recording of Purcell’s’s Nymphs and Shepherds by the Manchester Children’s Choir and the 1969 televised choir reunion, Wood’s story follows the touching reunion of two former choir members, 40 years after they sang together on the Columbia record.
Life in the intervening four decades has seen the pair take differing paths, but they’ve never strayed from Manchester. Jimmy ‘Tubby’ Baker is an insurance salesman and working in an office across the square from secretary Enid. The reunion gives the duo an opportunity to develop something to enrich their somewhat lonely existence.
Wood’s script flits the viewer back and forth between 1929 and 1969, as we see the decisions made as children still cause ripples forty years on. The recollection for Enid and Tubby that their youthful selves sang forth uninhibited releases something in both that threatens to change the course of their mundane lives.
Wood’s skill in stand-alone witty musical numbers had already been evident in her numerous television shows, while her credentials in musical theatre were established with her adaptation of her own soap opera pastiche Acorn Antiques into a surprise hit stage musical. Wood has also proved a dab-hand at moving period dramas such asHousewife, 49 and in That Day We Sang she combines all these strands into a work that both moves and entertains.
From the comic to the poignant, Wood’s score may not contain numbers that could stand alone outside of this particular narrative framework, but they serve to drive the story forward perfectly. Lyric writing purists may groan at rhyming couplets such as ‘our assets are meagre, there’s a whiff of Swarfiga’ but they fit perfectly to create a believable Mancunian world, albeit with a slightly enhanced musical realism. Songs serving to poke fun of the likes of Berni Inn, complete with its ‘cake in drag’ the Black Forest Gateau, provide period detail, while nods to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers allows the musical theatre conventions to sit alongside the gritty reality.
Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton reunite from their award winning Sweeny Todd stage appearance and deliver perfectly pitched performances as Tubby and Enid. Both convey the sense of loneliness and sadness the pair share but also a sense that there is a more spirited side just waiting to be unleashed. While the pair anchor the story, there are also fine performances from Conleth Hill and Sophie Thompson as social climbers Frank and Dorothy and Daniel Rigby as war Veteran turned teacher Mr Kirkby. Harvey Chaisty as the young Jimmy also provides pivotal dramatic tension and Chaisty’s duet with Ball is one of many moments that tug the heart strings.
Wood’s direction isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and it could easily turn into a saccharine coated overdose of schmaltz. With its knowing nod to the absurdities of musical theatre, however, the piece stays just the right side of sentimentality. That Day We Sang may have moved from stage to screen but in doing so it captures an important and accomplished new British musical score.
That Day We Sang is released on DVD by Universal Studios on Monday 30 March. Certificate PG