Writer: Alan Pollock
Director: Hamish Glen
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Coventry has a rich pop heritage and Godiva Rocks seeks to mine that looking at two periods in particular – the mid 1960s and early 1980s when Coventry-based performers like Vince Hill, Frank Ifield, Beverley Jones in the 1960s and, later, the whole 2 Tone phenomenon of the 1980s as well as other acts like Hazel O’Connor. Central to the Coventry music scene was a venue in Primrose Hill Street that went through several incarnations. In the 1960s, it was known as The Orchid but hit a fallow period in 1970s and 1980s before morphing into the Tic Toc and more recently, The Colosseum and the Kasbah.
The 1980s strand of our story sees slightly sleazy Leo Freeman seeking to cement his place among the great and the good of Coventry by redeveloping swathes of the city – including the Orchid. As the show opens, he is preparing to celebrate the engagement of one daughter and the acceptance of the other, Nell, to the Birmingham Conservatoire. In the city, Bev and Jas are leading protests against Goodman’s plans to demolish The Orchid. Ignorant of her true identity, the protesters meet Nell and the enigmatic Patrick who has come to Coventry to find his father and a long-lost demo tape from the 1960s featuring his mother which should have rocketed her to stardom. Nell and Patrick are instantly attracted and she invites him to the party.
But why is Leo so anti-Patrick? The obvious answer might be that he is black and Nell white, but it goes deeper than that and it is only by examining the incidents leading up to a certain night in 1964 that the various characters’ stories emerge.
At its heart, Godiva Rocks is a jukebox musical albeit with the added element of weaving its fiction around well-known Coventry landmarks. But like many such musicals, the storyline and character development take second place to the music celebrated. The storyline is very complex, set mainly in the 1980s using, initially very brief, flashbacks to the 1960s. We are helped that the flashbacks typically take place within the memories of the 1980s cast who stare into space as the action unfolds behind them, so we can link the two eras, but too much remains muddled in our minds. Some of the almost cinematic flashbacks are very short and this breaks up the flow; some transitions aren’t quite as snappy as they might be.
At the centre is the love story, apparently doomed, between Nell and Patrick. Georgie Ashford as Nell has a fine singing voice, bringing a bluesy, brittle quality to songs. Her performance of Hazel O’Connor’s Will You? shortly after they first meet is spine-tingling: a fine interpreter of a song, indeed. Madeleine Harland plays Nell’s mother Dee and has a fine rich voice, full of emotion as she relives the events of 1964; a beautiful rendition of Blue Velvet showcases her talents. Central to the 1964 storyline is fictional girl trio The Jaguars. There are tensions between the girls as one, Rosa (Alexia McIntosh) is promoted over the others when they are to perform for Phil Spector. McIntosh is loud, bluesy but vulnerable in her singing, filling the Belgrade with a wall of sound – assisted by the onstage band led by Gordon Dougall. However, some of the other vocal performances are under-powered with voices not always clearly audible. Workmanlike choreography completes the picture.
Godiva Rocks is certainly a crowd-pleaser. Songs both familiar and less well-known are well-received. Chuckles of appreciation accompany local references in local accents and it is refreshing to see the local musical tradition celebrated. But as a whole, it doesn’t quite gel. Libby Watson’s set does a good job of evoking the atmosphere of the periods, with The Orchid set at the centre, with the 1964 action typically taking place behind a printed semi-transparent curtain.
Runs until 21 October 2017 | Image: Robert Day