The Drifters Girl – Garrick Theatre, London

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Book: Ed Curtis

Director: Jonathan Church

The Drifters seem to defy all that is humanly possible. They’re a band that started in 1953 and yet are still very much active today, 70-years later. That they transcend generations and, apparently, ageing is down to relatively unknown Faye Treadwell, their exceptionally savvy manager who turned the band into a brand.

Her managerial genius kicked in when founding member and lead singer, Clyde McPhatter (Matt Henry), was conscripted to the US Army. Without a singer and tour dates lined up, Faye hired a new singer and declared ‘Everyone supports the Yankees but their players change all the time, so why can’t this be applied to a band?’

The Drifters Girl takes us through the life of the band under Faye’s leadership through to a major court case about the ownership The Drifters’ brand. It’s told retrospectively, starting off outside the courthouse taking us back through the band’s history using Faye’s daughter as the narrative navigator.

Considering the band went through about 60 members during this time, there’s a lot of story to be told. And, with so much ground to cover, it’s unsurprising that the narrative skips lightly through the band’s history. Whilst you get a strong flavour of the band, its evolution, and its challenges, there’s very little emotional or dramatic heft to the story. Some major parts are given a little more focus but far from enough considering their subject matter. Gender, colour, and sexuality are all touched upon but never given the depth of attention these subjects deserve.

The use of Faye’s daughter to drive the narrative forward is an interesting device, but the mother/daughter relationship is never built upon, so that some of the show’s emotional focal points end up lacking any real emotion.

Where the show shines, however, is in the performances. Beverley Knight is no stranger to the stage, and as Faye Treadway, she shows she’s justified in calling herself an actor as much as she is a singer. Her performance is bold, sassy, and energetic. And, whilst the script doesn’t deliver much in the sense of emotional engagement, Knight rings out every ounce of emotion in her singing.

Along side her are true stars of the show, namely The Drifters. In a wonderfully creative move, the multitude of characters in the play are all performed by the four main male actors:Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud. With a change of jacket or headgear they play everything from chorus girls to record label execs. They even play Peter, Paul & Mary and Bruce Forsythe (yes, dear Old Brucie gets an appearance). Each of the actors throw themselves into each role with a subtlety and deftness that just works beautifully.

But, of course, at the heart of this show is the music of The Drifters, and that’s performed and delivered exquisitely. The vocal performances are pitch perfect. Individually, each actor delivers strong performances, but united in harmonies, they soar. Coupled with Fay Fullerton’s costumes and Karen Bruce’s choreography, the musical numbers are the lifeblood of the show.

The Drifters Girl, ultimately, is a mixed bag. It is a well-acted show with wonderfully performed musical numbers that is, unfortunately, hampered by a lacklustre script.

Runs until 26 March 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Theatrical Silver. Musical Gold

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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