Review: Once Upon a Time in Wigan **

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Hull Truck, Hull

The irony: a production of a play about Northern Soul and the biggest problem is that it is lacking a soul.

Once Upon a Time in Wigan, Mick Martin’s nostalgic love letter to the heady Seventies and the short but brilliant life of the famous Wigan Casino, has the potential to be a grimy, sweaty, ultimately hopeful play about Northern life.

The script is there, the characters – despite lacking dimension and flesh on their bones – are there, the stories, thin though they are, are there and the music provides a soundtrack to hopes and dreams. The play’s many weaknesses can be compensated for, one suspects, by a strong production. The problem with this production and the performances in it – save for Becci Gemmell, appearing to channel Julie Walters as the ever awkward Suzanne – are devoid of intensity.

The immediate problem is what looks like cheap production values. The bare stage is cavernous, which is perfect for the inside of Wigan Casino, but simply doesn’t work in the intimate scenes. This then creates the problem that, without the intimacy, we’re just watching a lot of people, in which we have no investment, dancing in an anachronistic manner. Which is far from entertaining.

Eugene, played limply by Alan Morrissey, discovers the delights of Northern Soul and the love of a good woman on the same night. Over five years Wigan Casino becomes his church – and he is devout. When it closes he is lost. It’s difficult to care.

In rep to February 25.