Review: Rudy’s Rare Records by Hackney Empire and Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Rudys-recordsThis co-production by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Hackney Empire ought to be a sure-fire success, written by Danny Robins, who penned the popular Radio 4 comedy series of the same name, and starring the talented Lenny Henry. Sadly, however, it was the most disappointing piece of theatre I have seen in a very long time.

For a start, the storyline was horribly clichéd, centering around three generations of a black British family. Grandpa, the eponymous Rudy, ably played by Larrington Walker, is a Jamaican immigrant whose record shop is his life. But the advent of the iPlayer has rendered vinyl obsolete and the shop is running into financial problems. To add to this, the ‘developers’ are moving in, pressuring Rudy to sell up to make way for a new supermarket. His son Adam, played by Lenny Henry, is a failed actor who has never seen eye-to-eye with his father, and who desperately wants him to see sense and get himself out of his financial hole by selling the shop.  Adam’s son, Richie, who is much closer to his grandfather than his father, has dropped out of college because he got a girl pregnant, but can’t tell his Dad – a set of situations which have been done to death a million times since the 1970s.

The satellite characters are Rudy’s friend, Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon), who runs the florist next door, Rudy’s long-suffering girlfriend, Doreen (Lorna Gayle), who runs the launderette, and Tasha (Natasha Godfrey), a seemingly-independent spirit who eventually succumbs to the financial pressure to conform. The cast is completed by a small band who occupy the room at the back of the shop and play most of the way through the show, supplying background and incidental music, and occasionally allowing the characters to burst into classic songs, which are agonisingly shoehorned into the plot, such as A Message to you Rudy by The Specials, and You Don’t Love Me (No no no) by Dawn Penn, sung by Doreen.

Unfortunately, as well as being almost unbearably slow (the first half ran for 90 minutes and, during that time, very little happened other than the revelation that Richie had dropped out of college, which came moments before the interval), it wasn’t just the storyline that was clichéd; most of the dialogue was, too. Adam’s running joke about the parts he had been cast in (mugger … mugger … and his one starring role in Casualty … injured mugger), like most of the so-called humour, was appallingly dated. Lenny Henry tried valiantly to bring a sense of relaxation and realism to a script that forced its talented cast to posture and mug at the audience, but to no avail.

By far the best thing about the show was the set, designed by Libby Watson, which was beautifully intricate and evocative. Unfortunately we got to examine it in detail before the show started, and everything went downhill from there. My overriding memory of the evening was of Steaming meets Goodness Gracious Me, without the biting humour of either. If you’re over 60 and haven’t caught up with ‘modern’ comedy, you might well enjoy the show. Otherwise, I would steer well clear.

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