Writer: Philip Goulding
Director: Kevin Shaw
Reviewer: Donna Kelly
37 years after her death, Dame Gracie Fields’ extraordinary life story is brought to life in a brand-new stage production written for Oldham Coliseum and New Vic Theatre.
The former mill girl from Rochdale rose to international fame in 1931 with Sally In Our Alley, the film which featured her signature tune for the next 40 years, Sally. Fields went on to make 10 other films as well as countless recordings, becoming a household name by the late 1930s. She was made a Dame in 1979 and remained one of Britain’s most popular female entertainers of all time until her death in the same year.
Fields’ Rochdale-to-Hollywood tale has been well-documented over the past few years but few capture such a warm, funny andmoving portrait of the female entertainer as Our Gracie. Written in the style of vaudeville music hall, the innovative stage production uses Fields’ own words to document her remarkable rise to fame, from singing in her grandmother’s chip shop to becoming one of the highest paid female movie stars in the world. The story is brought to life with rousing songs, dance numbers and plenty of laughter, the actors speaking directly to the audience as they tell the funny, sentimental and at times, sad stories.
Rochdale actress Sue Devaney stars as the iconic singer, bringing Fields’ vibrant and down-to-earth personality to life. Her warm rich singing voice sounds uncannily like Fields’ as she belts the famous hits Sing As We Go, The Sweetest Song In The World and Sally and her enthusiastic performance reaffirms why the humble mill girl from Rochdale became the country’s greatest ever star.
Devaney is supported by the theatre’s six-strong repertory acting company who play various people Fields’ has met throughout her life including George Formby, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, as well as the supporting band. While all the actors deliver strong performances, Ben Stock and Liz Carney stand out in particular, Stock shining as the Fields’ loyal pianist Harry and Carney supporting Devaney with the musical numbers with her soft, sweet voice.
In true music hall style, some of the acting is a little daft and over-the-top and the script is packed full of innuendos and “bad” jokes. The first half of the production also runs on for a little longer than is necessary but picks the pace back up again in the second half.
All in all, Our Gracie is a warm, funny andmoving portrait of the famous singer and actress and a touching musical tribute to Rochdale’s finest export.
Runs until 26 March | Photo: Joel C Fildes