Richard Cameron’s The Glee Club was the first ever production at Doncaster’s Cast theatre in 2013, so it seems an appropriate venue for the Out of Joint revival to begin its new touring production. The story of a group of South Yorkshire miners who spend their weekends singing in a choir has an added local resonance for the audience here.
Cameron’s play is, on the surface, a comedy, and it contains its fair share of raucous moments: there’s lots of banter in a shower scene, complete with full male nudity. Yet it’s the quieter, more thoughtful moments that stick in the memory: the closeted choir leader coming to terms with his sexuality or the young widower desperate to rebuild his family.
At heart, it’s a play about male friendship and the sense of community that was rife in pit villages. The cast in Kate Wasserberg’s production are convincing as friends: Bill Ward is the swaggering alpha-male Bantam, and Eamonn Riley gives a heartbreakingly sad performance as pianist Phil, who is being blackmailed by a jealous former boyfriend. Linford Johnson also stands out as the youngest member of the group, clutching a guitar that represents the seismic social change that’s about to happen.
It helps that all six actors have terrific voices, harmonising beautifully on a number of old standards against Mark Bailey’s suitably industrial set full of brick and steel. With not a woman in sight, The Glee Club is a very male play, but it’s one that balances the testosterone with tenderness.