tom head

Kit Orton as Tom Scott, an early incarnation of Tom Jones, with The Senators.

Tom – the musical

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

IF ever a show deserved its chance in the West End this is it.

It’s fun with some good music, a strong story of struggle and love among the pits of the Welsh valleys and, most endearing, it has an honest charm about it.

This isn’t a flash jukebox musical, a vehicle for a tribute show with a string of Tom Jones hits separated by a hint of a script, this is a warts and all story of Tommy Woodward, womanising, hard drinking, son of a miner.

He was a lad ready for a fight at the drop of a hat, no stranger to troubleTom and Linda, married at 16 when his girlfriend Linda, 15, became pregnant and, if the fates had their way, an ideal recruit for a life of toil and trouble in the factories or pits of South Wales – except for one thing . . . Tommy Woodward had a voice.

It was a voice that could still the raucous crowds in working men’s clubs and pack them in wherever he appeared in around Pontypridd. Solo pub singer Woodward became Tom Scott and the Senators -weddings, pubs, clubs and support for touring bands a speciality.

Elin Phillips as teenage mother and bride Linda with husband teddy boy Tom

Their big break came through Gordon Mills, producer, song writer, manager, who took them to the big time in London – except the big time was just more of the little time in a scruffy basement flat paid for by Mills, who was backing his faith in Tom with mounting personal debts.

A failed record, and a diet of small time gigs could have been the end of the now broke and dispirited Tom, made worst by the news Linda was looking at getting a job to make ends meet. It was a badge of working class honour that husbands provided, while wives stayed at home to bring up the family. Linda having to work was more than failure as a pop star, it was a public admission of failure as a father and husband.

Which is where fate came in; by chance another in an endless string of demos of Mills’ songs was turned down by the intended recipient, Sandie Shaw, and recorded instead by Tom. It’s not unusual was the end of the story of Tommy Woodward, the end of Tom Scott, and The Senators. It was the start of Tom Jones, Jones the voice.

Newport-born Kit Orton is a splendid Tom, with a suitable swagger, gyrating hips and a voice that cleverly grows as Tom gets more accomplished and confident in his ability. The story is punctuated by the young Tom singing hits of the time such as Spanish Harlem, Ghost Riders in the Sky and I can’t stop loving you.

By the end with an encore of Jones’ hits such as Sex Bomb, Green Green Grass of Home, Delilah and What’s New Pussycat and you could have been watching a young Tom Jones.

Elin Phillips is the supportive and long suffering Linda, Jones’s wife. Despite Tom’s dalliances with other women they were to remain happily married for 59 years until Linda’s death from cancer in Los Angeles last month.

There is good support to from Richard Corgan as the no nonsense Gordon Mills while John McLarnon (Vernon), Tom Connor (Dave), Daniel Lloyd (Mickey) and Kieran Bailey (Chris) are superb as the four-piece band who make up the Senators.

While the cast provide us with family, pub regulars, passers-by and the two ladies of the night who live in the flat above.

Acting as narrator, boyo, is Jack Lister, played by Phylip Harries, who pops up on tenor sax for the on yer feet singalong at the end.

Perhaps West End shows might be flashier, with more polish, more pizazz, but that is more than made up for with this show’s heart and honest charm and it is a show you can enjoy whether or not you are a Tom Jones fan, the story, not the music, is the thing.

Like Tom Jones this is a child of the Valleys seeking the big time and its Gordon Mills is Theatr na nÓg, a tiny community theatre on an industrial estate in Neath that few have heard of and even less can pronounce.

Like Tom Jones it has a story to tell and writer Mike James has stuck to his task if telling it while Director and Theatr na nÓg artistic director Geinor Styles has kept the story on track helped by a splendidly flexible set from Sean Crowley with stage size video projections of everything from pit heads to street scenes, and effective minimal sets for factories, clubs, pubs and my particular favourite item, the shade on a standard lamp turned to change the decoration from the Woodward family home to that of Linda.

The first question a reviewer asks as they head home is did I enjoy it? And the answer is yes. The second is did the audience enjoy it? And from their reaction, they loved it. Tom could have had its own It’s not unusual moment. To 0-06-16

Roger Clarke

01-06-16 

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