In the groove for a rare treat

cast of rudy 

Just for the record: Lenny Henry as Adam, Jeffery Kissoon as Clifton, Larrington Walker as Rudy and Lorna Gayle as Doreen. Pictures: Robert Day

Rudy’s Rare Records

Birmingham Rep

****

AS plays go this is a bit like Rudy’s Handsworth record shop, a bit of everything for everybody scattered around the bins.

There is humour, poignancy, humour, drama, romance, humour, music and did I mention, humour because it is very funny?

Rudy’s shop-come-social club started life as a sitcom on Radio 4 and writer Danny Robbins has done a good job in turning what was a 30 minute episode format into a play that stands on its own two feet - shaky reggae feet in Rudy’s case – so whether you have ever listened to radio show matters not a jot.

Former RSC actor Larrington Walker gives a wonderful portrayal of the part he played on radio, Rudy, the cantankerous owner of the shop where the rarest thing is an actual customer – one who actually buys something.

His heavy Jamaican accent and patois means not every word is picked up but the gestures and facial expressions are enough to get the gist, usually variations on disdain.

He has a fair singing voice and gives us a remarkable dance which requires knees and hips to ignore basic human anatomy.

Developers want his shop, which is rapidly sinking financially under a mountain of debt – not that Rudy notices as he just throws any bills away unopened.

That would solve the debt problem but Rudy is refusing to sell.

His son, Adam, has returned home from London to look after his dad after Rudy suffered a heart attack and it is a role that fits Lennie Henry like a glove.

From teen stand-up star Henry has matured into a fine actor and Adam gives him the chance to show all sides of his stageadam and rudycraft from drama as both the concerned son and dad to his own offspring, to comedy with excellent timing, with even a bit of stand-up thrown in and a more than decent singing voice.

His son Richie, is well played by Joivan Wade, a member of the National Youth Theatre, and he gives us the other end of the generations as we see how Adam tries to learn from how he was treated by Rudy in the way he treats his own son.

Romance, and laundry, is supplied by Doreen, played wonderfully as a typical West Indian lady of more mature years by Lorna Gayle, last seen at the Rep in I was a Rat. Lorna, is also an award-winning reggae singer, and it shows in the numbers she performs.

Adam, Lenny Henry, with his father Rudy, Larrington Walker, in relaxed mood.

Then there is Clifton who runs the florist shop and hates flowers. Jeffery Kisson, again from the radio series and another with RSC on his CV, is a lovely foil for Rudy as two old reprobates with a past that may or may not be entirely true – did Bob Marley come and stay in the guest room and was Rudy really in the Jamaican Tour de France team?

Back to youth again and from the dark side we have Natasha Godfrey as the young goth shop assistant who always arrives a couple of hours late, usually because she has been caring for her dad who has Alzheimer’s.

The story is simple; the battle to save Rudy’s Rare Records from the twin threats of developers and debt but it is more than that, it is a story of relationships.

There is Rudy and his son Adam, where affection has never really been shown by father to son, but, as Clifton says to Adam: “You may be right, he doesn’t like you, he loves you”.

Then there is Adam with his son Richie, and the realisation that as a parent your children should be able to tell you anything, including why Richie is home from uni.

There is the on-off-on-off etc. relationship between Rudy and Doreen where Doreen wants commitment, or at least stability, while Rudy is  . . . well Rudy.

And then we see another Rudy with his old friend Clifton in a friendship that goes back to when they both arrived as immigrants.

Fund raising to save the shop gives an excuse for a sort of reggae jukebox musical section, or at least a concert on a Handsworth balcony, with some reggae standards from Henry and Lorna backed by an excellent quartet under musical director Joseph Roberts on bass.

The fourth best reggae band in Handsworth (out of four) are rehearsing for free in the backroom of Rudy’s shop throughout the play, which means familiar snatches of music drift in an out behind conversations.

The play has some cracking one liners and observations, such as why Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t win an Oscar for 12 years a slave for example. There are race and immigration issues, social comments, family issues and studies of relationships in what is a very human story, but above all it is gloriously funny.

But, and isn’t there always a but, a little judicious pruning might not go amiss on a first act of almost 90 minutes and a running time of around two hours and 45 minutes.

Still, this was a world premiere and there is plenty of time to bed in and evolve what is excellent material. The excellent cast and band got a standing ovation, unusual at the Rep, and everyone left with a smile on their face, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Meanwhile for younger readers record shops were places where you hung around, listened to music and gossip, met mates and sometimes even bought records; and records were . . . oh never mind. Just go see it. To 20-09-14.

Roger Clarke

09-09-14 

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