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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: The Musical

11 May 12 words: Jared Wilson

Everything you fear it might be, that’s what it’s not...

It’s perhaps not the most obvious choice for an all-singing and dancing adaptation. In fact it sounds like something Chris Morris might do for a joke. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a classic novel by Alan Sillitoe about working class life in 1950s Nottingham, which was soon turned into a classic social-realist film by Karel Reisz. It specialised in the grittiness of working class roots and factory life. But at no point during the book or the film did any of the characters look like they were about to burst into song. Tears maybe...

Fifty years or so later; enter Catherine Spoors (book and lyrics), Stephen Williams (music and additional lyrics) and Sarah Warnsby (director) to mix it all up a bit. As someone who loves SNSM and is not particularly fond of musicals I didn’t expect to find myself saying this, but it all works really really well.

All the players are on stage as you even enter the theatre. They’re in a bar socialising and thus an impact is made before you have even taken your seat. From there we enter the first scene, in the bar, and Brenda (Kate Williams) and Winnie (Nicola Bilton) are approached by ‘Loudmouth’, who ultimately challenges Arthur (Tom Keeling) to a drinking contest.

Minor criticism: Loudmouth’s accent was an odd mix of Scottish/ Irish and Yorkshire (i.e. completely all over the place) and didn’t work for us. But this is the only accent-based criticism I’m going to offer this play as surprisingly most of the other actors appear to have totally nailed the accent - itself a real rareity! It’s the best rendition of our mother tongue I can remember seeing on stage or screen for a long time and even transfers to the songs. This is probably due in no small part to the fact that an early decision was made to cast local actors – people who actually know what they’re talking abaaht.

Particular praise must go to Tom Keeling for actually bettering Albert Finney in the classic film in this aspect. Although Finney’s Seaton will always be iconic, we know deep down that as a Lancashire lad he never quite managed to get his tongue round our native dialect. Keeling does this with aplomb and steals the show with a confident display throughout.

Following the bar scene, the play is built around several more key events from the book. The abortion scene with Brenda is harrowing to watch – taking place mainly as a projected image onto the background of the stage. It offers a glimpse into Seaton’s psyche; he’s genuinely upset while she’s on stage, only to start chasing skirt again as soon as he’s palmed her off on his auntie for her ‘bottle of gin and hot bath’ cure.

The Raleigh factory scenes are set up brilliantly, with the various machines and tools providing the rhythm section for the numbers that take place in there. The tension between the foreman and Seaton is tangible, as is his childlike revelry in playing pranks on his colleagues – and denying infidelities with their wives (singing Nowt To Do Wi’ Me).

The Goose Fair scene, where Arthur balances Brenda, Winnie and his new love Doreen (played by Amanda Bruce) is a particular highlight. The clown-like costumes illuminate the stage (although we all know Goose Fair isn’t quite like that), the Waltzer set is well thought out and there even appears to be a cameo appearance from a young version of the Xylophone Man! Okay. So he might not have actually been around the city playing his instrument in the late fifities – but this is a bit of poetic licence that we very much like.

The second half of the play is more downbeat and seems to follow the path of the book more than the film (the second half of the book being the Sunday Morning comedown). Arthur has taken a beating from a pair of squaddies for his infidelity and is bedridden and healing (singing I’ll Gerrup Tomorrer). Doreen, who saw to it that his battered frame made it home, comes to visit and finally rises him from his stupor. From this point onwards he appears to be a changed man and Nottingham's number one rogue spends his next Saturday night in with her and her mam.

The play ends with Doreen and Arthur duetting with Where I Want To Be and essentially pledging their love to each other. Whether a womanising beast like Seaton can be changed for long is another question. But for the purposes of the romantic plotline you’d like to believe it.

I came into this musical with a bit of trepidation, expecting a twee butchering of a much-loved local classic. I left feeling elated and wanting to burst into song myself. From the great set design (credit must go to Nottingham Trent University graduate Abigael Snape), to the local-centric songs (I’m a lucky bogger – has to go down as a classic) and the excellent performances, it’s a really enjoyable night out. Everything you fear it might be, that’s what it’s not...

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning showed at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 12 May 2012. 

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