When is a world premiere not a world premiere? When a near-identical play ran three months in Keswick in 2012. This narking misrepresentation aside, Richard Cameron‘s piece directed by Hull Truck founder Mike Bradwell has instantly credible characters and an interesting situation. Cheerful Delie is a ‘special needs’ girl in a woman’s body on holiday respite with her Aunty Brenda who runs a women’s refuge in the only village in Yorkshire still not recovered from the pit closures of the 1980s. Like the Iraq war and the holocaust, the miners’ strike is the gift that keeps on giving to contemporary playwrights and much of the polemic is eroded by familiarity.

Delie, Aunty Brenda and pawnbroker mate George – the only man permitted inside the women’s refuge because it’s dramatically convenient and he occasionally wears a frock – form a terrible trio of buskers to Tamla Motown karaoke tracks. All three of them look like a tribute band to the Les/Lesley character from Benidorm. The motif driven home by every drumbeat of The Shirelles or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is that downtrodden women find redemption in a vision of ‘the man’ who will become their rock. Against their vivid problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, ignorance and exclusion from society, this is bathetic enough to be ‘Benefits Street: The Musical’.

Good acting, though. You engage immediately with Emma Hook’s Delie and feel for her in the sad chain of events that you can see coming but she can’t, Suzan Sylvester is a credible calm centre as Brenda and Holly Campbell makes a poignant friend for Delie as waif-like caravan dweller Roma, surviving brutality and fantasising about the house she’ll never see built.

Cameron exchanges comic one-liners for a darker tone in the second half but the halting direction, clunky scene changes and disconnected punctuation of the Motown melodies make an endurance of what could be a much sharper contrapuntal comedy drama if someone were brave enough to make cuts.

 

This review originally written for Londonist.com