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Mr Monkey sees That Day We Sang at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 5th December 2013
End date : 18th January 2014
Visit date : 10th December, 2013
Young Jimmy (William Haresceugh) plays his forbidden gramophone (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre to see That Day We Sang.

Mr Monkey looking at the That Day We Sang poster
On 18th June 1929, a choir made of 250 children from schools in working class districts throughout Manchester assembled at the Free Trade Hall to be recorded singing Purcell's Nymphs and Shepherds.

Victoria Wood took this fact as the starting point for her "play with songs and dancing and insurance men", first performed in 2011 as part of the Manchester International Festival, and now reconfigured for the Royal Exchange.

The play begins in 1969 when only four members of the original choir turn up to be interviewed for a Granada TV piece about the 1929 recording.

Two are a rather overbearing and self-important couple; the others are Enid, a PA (not a secretary) working in Piccadilly Gardens and Jimmy, an insurance man. Both Enid and Jimmy have had lives that are, in various ways, limited or unfulfilled. Jimmy's mother has died recently and hearing the Nymphs and Shepherds record for the first time ever in his life acts as a catalyst making him open to change.

The 1969 story is intercut with the 1929 story of how young Jimmy gets into the choir, his life at home and how the recording is made.

The play has a lot of short scenes, with many changes of scenery. Forgotten features of Mancunian life - Wimpy's, a Berni Inn, the Golden Egg, corporation bus stops, the old Piccadilly Gardens - are deftly recreated to depict a time when a man could live to the age of 50 without dipping into the world of yoghurt.

The costuming is spot-on for the both periods, and a nice touch is the vast collection of late sixties lampshades that descend to illuminate the 'modern' scenes.

The play is not a conventional musical. The songs mostly represent internal monologues (sometimes shared) or outright fantasy. Being by Victoria Wood they're full of clever wordplay, funny, and just the right length.
Enid (Anna Francolini) and Jimmy (Dean Andrews) on a bench in Piccadilly Gardens (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
The cast are all good at combining acting, singing and dancing. With exception of the two leads all the adults play at least two roles, and so convincingly that in some cases Mr Monkey could only tell by reading the program.

Dean Andrews portrays Jimmy Lawrence with just the right combination of solid but self-deprecating decency, vulnerable yet determined when he's made his mind up. Anna Francolini is exceptional as Enid, with a marvellous difference in body language between mundane reality and fantasy scenes.

The children in the cast are excellent, both young Jimmy (William Haresceugh on the press night) and the choir (one of three teams of children).
Miss Riall (Kelly Price) leads the children's choir (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey had expected that That Day We Sang would be full of humour and good entertainment, but found unexpected emotion as well. Mr Monkey suspects there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end, from laughter as well as sadness. When the 1960s lights went out and the modern lights came on, he scampered out into the cold night with a thoughoughly warmed heart. Mr Monkey recommends That Day We Sang to anybody looking for good family entertainment and anybody over 50 will particularly appreciate the references to life in 1969.

That Day We Sang runs until 18th January 2014.

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