by Mike James.
New Wolsey Theatre Civic Drive IP1 2AS To 3 May 2014.
7.45pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01473 295900.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 April.
From Pontypridd with love.
This is a likeably unsophisticated biography of the early life of street-fighting, strong-voiced Tommy Woodward from Treforest, South Wales. No-one could stop him singing from the start. Mike James’ play tours from Wales, Theatr na nÓg’s tour ending in Ipswich, far from the green, green grass of home.
Aptly, given the New Wolsey’s fondness for musicals and pop-based plays. James takes Tom up to 1965 (the singer’s mid-twenties) and the dawn of fame. It’s a story of family support as Tommy marries pregnant teenage girlfriend Linda, musical enthusiasm as he joins local band The Senators as Tommy Scott, and local fans buy his early discs at Spiller’s Records.
There’s plenty of deliberate caricature among minor characters, giving pace and humour. But it’s all good-hearted, as the production assumes, justifiably, it has the audience on its side.
No matter how unanalytical the narration, how brief the scenes, the story moves happily along in cosily comfortable manner. Even where it has nowhere much to go. Kit Orton, in wig, looks enough like and sounds enough like the young Jones to wow every row with his belter of a performance.
Episodes of poverty and a career careering towards oblivion in London are leavened by such moments as Tom’s aggressive aspect emerging when he lays into inaptly named record producer Joe Meek, who’s just pulled a gun on the man who can’t keep a respectable distance from an innocent microphone.
Called ‘a’ story of Tom Jones, rather than ‘the’ story, it can seem sharpened-up, with knife-edges, cliff-edges, even a platform edge when it all seems too much one night at Notting Hill tube station. Then, just as shame that his wife’s going back to work has Jones packing-up to return home, manager Gordon Mills demands the group record a demo-tape of a “girly” song he’d co-written for Sandie Shaw.
Jones demanded the number for himself. Mills refused. Shaw weighed-in, saying the demo-singer should release the record. Perhaps it’s not unusual to find such fine judgment among artists. In this case, the rest becomes a roll-call of famous titles to come – encores from the future.
Jack Lister: Phylip Harries.
Tom: Kit Orton.
Linda: Elin Phillips.
Jo Mills: Shirley Darroch.
Vi Trenchard: Nicola Reynolds.
Vernon Hopkins: Alex Parry.
Dave Cooper: Tom Connor.
Micky Gee: Daniel Lloyd.
Chris Slade: Kieran Bailey.
Gordon Mills: Dean Read.
Director: Geinor Styles.
Designer: Sean Crowley.
Lighting: Ceri James.
Sound: Mike Beer.
Musical Arranger/Musical Director: Ben Goddard.
Movement: Maggie Rawlinson.
Voice/Accent coach: Emma Stevens Johnson.
Fight coordinator: Kevin McCurdy.
Associate costume: Sian Jenkins.