City Varieties, Leeds
Sex & Docks & Rock n Roll has almost everything you need to make a hit musical. A couple of memorable big numbers? Tick. A cast who can sing, dance and act? Tick. Memorable characters? Tick. A plot? Oh, hang on a minute, someone forgot the story.
Written by Boff Whalley, formerly of Chumbawamba and a man who says he wanted to reclaim the musical from the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show is being revived by Red Ladder, after its premiere in 2010.
Set in Liverpool and, more specifically, in the living room of the McDermotts, ‘an ordinary dysfunctional family’, the show rattles along a pace and Whalley clearly knows how to write a catchy tune. It’s part musical, part panto, part farce, but you can’t help feeling by the end that it’s also only partly finished.
The 1960s dockers strike provides the backdrop for the show, with Ronnie McDermott, played by Red Ladder’s artistic director, Rod Dixon, an armchair revolutionary and his wife Jean at the centre of the piece. Lisa Howard, who plays the sharp, steely, if long-suffering matriarch steals most of the scenes and her voice was made for musical theatre.
Elsewhere there’s a couple of comic turns from Kyle Goodley as Jean’s sister Mona, still broken-hearted 25 years after being dumped, and Harry Hamer as her hapless son Barry who hides a talent for rock ’n’ roll drumming beneath his bobble hat. It’s all entertaining stuff, but by the end everything is pretty much as it was in the beginning.
Maybe that’s the point, but you can’t help but think if Whalley had just spent a little more time on plot, his show might have been much more than just a good night out.