Writer: Stuart Ross
Director: Grant Murphy
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The 50s and 60s are seen as a time of considerable cultural change in Britain and America with the emergence of ‘the teenager’ and all it entailed from rock n’ roll music to leather jackets and quiffs. But underneath of all this, a more family-friendly type of music continued – the crooners and all-male harmony groups whose clean-cut image delighted grandmas and children alike. Stuart Ross celebrated this in his 1990 show Forever Plaid, which now has audiences swooning at the St James’s Theatre.
Frankie, Smudge, Sparky and Jinx are The Plaids, school friends whose dream of stardom was tragically terminated when a bus full of school girls careered into them. Up in heaven over 50 years later, The Plaids wonder about the life they missed out on, so they’re sent back to Earth to tell their story and perform one last concert that finally fulfils their dreams.
Directed by Grant Murphy, this revival of Forever Plaid effortlessly captures the style of the 50s boy band. From the Brylcreemed hair to the coordinated dance moves and angelic harmonies, this production perfectly captures the finger-clicking rhythm of the time, while gently poking fun at its saccharine innocence and sincerity. There’s plenty of corny humour in the comical choreography but there’s also plenty of affection for the songs and the period.
Much of the humour derives from the performers who avoid knowing nods to the audience and stay in character while offering flashes of irritation with each other and awkwardness when they forget the moves which add to the charm. As more is revealed about their background and early concerts, the individual characters start to take shape so there is just enough developing plot in this revue to sufficiently pad the sections between songs and the non-linear approach to the story-telling works well.
Musically Forever Plaid prioritises comedy in the early numbers so doesn’t really hit its stride until just before the interval, but when Jon Lee as Jinx sings Cry, followed by a full cast rendition of Sixteen Tons / Chain Gang it begins to sparkle. Act Two is more playful introducing spoons and bottles to add to the music and a few Calypso numbers as well as a recreation of the Ed Sullivan Show where The Plaids sing a frantic Lady of Spain with an impressive number of props. Luke Stiffler as Frankie, Matthew Quinn as Smudge, and Keith Jack as Sparky all get individual numbers too, with Quinn’s deeper voice making Rags to Riches a particular highlight. But it’s the harmonies with all four together that are most memorable.
All the songs are supported by just a piano, played by the superb Anthony Gabriele (“Bob”), and Quinn on double bass, while the part musical / part concert approach has enough content to keep the audience engaged and mostly laughing. Forever Plaid has cleverly plundered the 50s style and consistently applied it to create a sweet and charming production to tease and ultimately celebrate that long-lost sound of four-part harmony. You can definitely take your grandma.
Runs until24 April 2016 | Image:Claire Bilyard