Love is a many-splendored thing, or so the soundtrack maintains as it heralds a fifty-minute romp through teenage troubles, acting aspirations and romantic realities. If the wooden bench, which is the set, could talk it would probably reveal even more than already comes out in the conversations between Izzy (Tilly Farrell Whitehouse) and Carl (Corey Thompson), but that might just be a tad too much.
Credible, heartfelt and humorously entertaining
Tilly sits on the bench exuding confidence as she awaits the start of after-school rehearsals. She’s in the chorus but does not intend to go unnoticed, and has aspirations for future lead rolls and a place at drama school. Carl sits nervously at the other end of the bench overwhelmed by her exuberance. For him, her suggestion of holding hands and doing a dance routine together like Fred and Ginger (Astaire and Rogers) is ‘scary shit’. Her assumption that Carl is another would-be actor is quashed when he explains that he’s on the bench because he’s in detention having been caught (allegedly) selling sherbet Dib Dabs cut with washing powder.
The story moves on apace with all sorts of events over the next couple of years involving families, sex, babies, jobs and a load of other stuff that really is no more important than the storylines of Grease or Fame. That’s not a criticism of Michael Southan’s script, which is rich in fast and furious teenage banter littered with humour. The story is there, but who cares? This is a frantic tale of kids growing up and encountering all those crazy things that, for a short time, seem important, stuff that is new and amazing, along with confusing discoveries that have to be worked out while surrounded by teachers, family and friends.
The casting for this production is spot on. Whitehouse has enormous energy, exudes confidence and takes complete control of the action, exactly as required for her role. Thompson captures the essence of Carl starting out as the embarrassed, edgy schoolboy but incrementally building his character’s self-assurance. By the end of this double act they are reminiscing and we are left to admire two young actors who have given credible, heartfelt and humorously entertaining performances.
Fred and Ginger is a Gritty Theatre production. Based on the belief ‘that drama should not only change lives, but also be a part of everyday life for everyone’, the company’s mission is ‘to discover and nurture new audiences by performing a repertoire that consists of modern works that reflect the concerns and issues of the communities’ around them. This play is something of a departure from the grittiness of previous dramas, but even as a light-hearted piece, its themes are firmly rooted in the experiences of kids from the Black Country. Most remarkably, Southan has written it in authentic Brummy as opposed to standard English with a Birmingham accent. As such it forms part of what must surely be a very limited repertoire. It is another tribute to the skills of Whitehouse and Thompson, who, although locals, still had to perfect and sustain the dialect. Ultimately they spoke it so convincingly that at times subtitles would have been appreciated.
Gritty Theatre was co-founded by Dominic Thompson and Ian Robert Moule only a few years ago. Dominic was fresh out of drama school. Ian had drifted into theatre many years before with an opening to study at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg. In Germany he went on to work for the Hamburg State Opera, Stadttheater Bielefeld and Cologne Opera House. Later he added venues in the USA. In the UK he was engaged with Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House. He taught in the Midlands for around a decade and eventually brought the idea of a truly local theatre company to fruition. He directed for the company and was working on this production when his long-running battle with cancer finally overcame him at the age of fifty-two. This performance of Fred and Ginger was given under the very sad circumstances of his death just a week before.
As he would have wished, the show went on and Gritty Theatre will continue, as he said, to ‘fly the flag for the West Midlands’.