Growing Pains

Standing ovations are rare, but the house rose as one at the at the end of Tom Gill’s Growing Pains in tribute to a remarkable performer and a stunning show. The applause was prolonged and there was a sense that people just did not want to leave. Tom, on the other hand, must have been anxious to get away from the heat of the lights and have time to recover from his his theatrical workout.

Tom has a glint in his eye. He knows what he’s doing and he does it brilliantly.

Growing Pains draws on much of Tom’s life for its inspiration. As such it is an intensely personal show, but is in no way self-indulgent and the story is simple. Tom grew up in Salford, the “small town cage” as he calls it, where life was less than easy and family relationships were strained, to say the least. Surrounded by “baghead mates and the dad he hates,” he realises that it’s time to forge a new life elsewhere. He takes a train to London where a new chapter opens in what he calls his ‘journey from heartache to redemption’.

As people pop up Tom’s talents unfold. His accents give them an identity and as they open their mouths their characters are formed. The voice of Jamaican Howard, the neighbour with whom Tom engages in his early years, will linger for a long time. It’s authenticity comes as something of a shock, but it is carried off with sensitivity and affection combined with much amusement. He’s followed by many others.

There are lots of laughs in this show as well as plenty of pathos. At times it almost feels like stand-up comedy, but Tom’s script is meticulously moulded, his comedy is humour and wit and his methodology lyricism. It is this that makes Growing Pains a source of such abundant joy. Tom is a wordsmith and as the show progresses his love of English emerges along with the realisation that the skill he possesses is something of a dying art. He’s twenty-six and with youthful zeal seems to have decided it’s time to launch a campaign for real language, his wealth of his words highlighting the paucity of vocabulary that exists in so many other shows. Tom probably packs more words into sixty minutes than any other performer in town, but it’s how he uses those words that amazes. He has mastered the art of rhyme with delirious dexterity and uses the device to create a form of rap that is anglicised, innovative and inoffensive. This structure gives mesmerising momentum to lines that seem to pour from an endless stream.

If that were not enough, he also sings and plays the guitar. The show includes several appropriately appointed numbers which, of course, he himself composed. His personal style is folk rock but he has also devised an amusing West End musical pastiche that provides a startling departure from his norm.

Tom has a glint in his eye. He knows what he’s doing and he does it brilliantly, clearly relishing every moment. He’s had his pains and now he’s growing. His is a name to follow. In years to come when its flashing in neon lights above a grand theatre, make sure you are one of those who can say, ‘I saw him in Edinburgh, when he was just a lad, and look where he is now!’

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Trapped in a small town cage, Tom trades his baghead mates and the dad he hates for a one-way ticket. But he'll need more than a Young Persons Railcard for the journey he's about to take... Commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre, an explosive mash-up of words, wit, and original songs, Tom Gill (Channel 4, Sky 1) slams us onto the streets of Salford exploring love, masculinity and magic mushrooms. 'A talent to watch' **** ( 'A load of rubbish' (Tom's Dad).