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Willy on stage at Edinburgh

Fringe Festival: 2004

Edinburgh
Pleasance Grand Theatre
20th - 30th August

Emily singing
Emily's singing of 'Easy Terms' holds the band spell bound - not just the audience.

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The Reviews
 

Take two writers who started out wanting to write songs and went on to write plays, film scripts and musicals, add some highly accomplished musicians, stir in some telling extracts from their works and a few amusing anecdotes, and you have the basic ingredients of The Singing Playwrights. What’s missing, at this point, is the subtle blend Tim Firth and Willy Russell bring to the show they front. Enjoined by a disembodied voice to ‘Big it up massive’ for Russell and Firth, the pair bounced on stage and into the engaging ‘She gives me’, seamlessly segueing into the rest of their material.

In ninety minutes they ranged over some of the repertoire of Firth and Russell, songwriters in addition to extracts from the work of both writers and occasional lapses into anecdotage. Given that much of Russell’s best-known work has been for theatre, rather than film and television, where Firth made his early name, both Shirley Valentine and The Wrong Boy, Russell’s recent novel, feature significantly. As a theatre acquaintance once put it ‘Willy Russell speaks for England’; however one reacts to that assertion, his work remains some of the most profoundly political (with a small but very definite ‘p’) as well as profoundly funniest work to be found on the English stage in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The Pleasance Grand audience, an encouraging mixture of ages, types and presumably tastes weren’t disappointed in this or other departments, and while neither Firth nor Russell ought to immediately abandon the writing day job, there was enough content behind their deceptively laid-back tunesmithing to make one hope for more. In both Tim Firth’s Last Man Standing (as fine a post-feminist male anthem as you’re likely to get anywhere), and Willy Russell’s Crazy Days, a haunting elegy for our changing times, there’s worthwhile, intelligent songwriting going on. The Singing Playwrights has a single week’s run in Edinburgh, but one suspects that this show is intended to go on somewhere else, sometime else. One hopes so.

Bill Dunlop - EdinburghGuide.com

LONG before the plays that made both their names, music was Willy Russell’s and Tim Firth’s first love. In this show, they return to it with a seven-piece band, lyrics to linger over and a dazzling overlay of words and music that you’d be hard-pressed to match.

Being playwrights, they know all about making each word count. But what they are doing here - cutting up and reassembling their selected prose then interspersing it with their own songs - offers them the chance to make their words count in altogether different ways.

The best example is a lovely song from Firth called Same Thing Twice, about all the things a man wants to avoid in growing old, not least repeating himself. Then, while the song is still playing, Russell breaks into a soliloquy from his novel The Wrong Boy, where his teenage protagonist remembers his once-vibrant gran and how she ended up repeating herself. Cue, again, Same Thing Twice: the words exactly the same, but now with a completely different weight. Brilliant.

Both Russell and Firth have the kind of range that would allow them to turn their 90-minute concert in whatever direction they wanted. There’s the sublime (Living on the Never Never <Easy Terms> from Blood Brothers) and the joyous (She Give Me, and its highlights from Shirley Valentine).

These singing playwrights are indecently talented, but Russell’s commanding soliloquies and Firth’s versatile lyrics combine effectively to make it a night that only the coldest-hearted could fail to enjoy.

DAVID ROBINSON - The Scotsman

"There are many priceless moments..."

Tupperware. Shopping in Tesco. Growing old. It’s everyday subjects like these that have informed Willy Russell and Tim Firth’s successful writing for stage and screen. So it should come as little surprise that, when it comes to song writing, they produce well-observed, humerous and poignant vignettes - and a decent tune to boot.

This is a really enjoyable show and well put together. I doubt if either Russell or Firth sees himself as any god’s gift to singing, but the singing is only is only one part of a package that makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.

With veteran (!) Plainsong guitarist Andy Roberts directing the five-piece backing band, the songs, including mirthful Scouser’s Europena City of Culture rap, are given just the right weight of accompaniment. There are many priceless moments, including Firth’s tale of trying to conduct an adult affair in schoolboy French, and Russell’s readings from The Wrong Boy, with its fly-trapping sessions (don’t ask: this is a family newspaper), make it even funnier than I remember it. They’re on until Monday, and it would be a hard heart indeed who didn’t take some pleasure from their efforts.

Rob Adams - The Herald

 

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