Eastern Angles at the Junction, Cambridge
production photo: Mike Kwasniak
Making something of a song and dance about Town Planning, Eastern Angles are touring this entertaining verbatim documentary musical, part of the Lottery-funded Forty Years On project.
Against a versatile set – suggesting the architects' plans as well as the Peterborough Parkways of the title ["just another word for roads," as one character points out, a term imported, like much else in the Sixties, from the US], six actor-musicians chart the rise and fall of the Development Corporation that changed the face of the city and its surrounding villages.
Kenny Emson's fast-moving tale, directed by Ivan Cutting, follows a fictional family from the East End to Bretton township, with Peter [Robert Jackson] our guide as he grows from embryo to cynical middle age. Real-life key figures speak, sing and dance, rubbing shoulders with names off the telly: Crackerjack, Take Your Pick, Blankety Blank. And Simon Egerton's catchy songs make a wry commentary on the fudges and failures, as well as celebrating the considerable achievements.
Polly Nayler and Matt Ray-Brown are the Canning Town couple who move north to live the dream [as well as playing countless other characters] and Harry Waller was especially impressive as the Welshman whose gift of the gab turns the plans into bricks, mortar and tarmac.
No happy ending, but a brave, bold attempt to capture a complex chunk of social history in a light-hearted musical spectacular.
and for The Public Reviews:
and for The Public Reviews:
Another look at the recent history of Peterborough from Eastern Angles, part of the Forty Years On project.
Like the glossy programme, Kenny Emson's docu-drama is stuffed with dates and statistics, and peopled by characters both real – Hezza, Maggie, Brucie, Winnie – and imagined – the Devlins who move out from Canning Town to Bretton on a wave of optimism in 1963. The Peterborough Effect, they called it; centurion Roy Kinnear embodied its largely fictional Roman roots.
The central character, and faithful narrator, "ironically" christened Peter, is engagingly personified by Robert Jackson, who
sees the boy, and the new town project, through from pre-conception to darkly cynical end times. Typically, he also gets to play Peter Glaze and town planner Tom Hancock. The text is largely verbatim, taken from hours of interviews with survivors; the risk of lecture-room ennui is averted by clever use of popular television culture – Crackerjack, Take Your Pick, The Clangers – and by Simon Egerton's songs, which often have a satirical edge of their own – Abba's Money for the fancy [Scandinavian] scheme for community heating with one big boiler, or "Not A Holiday" for the fact-finding globe-trotting which preceded the design of the flagship shopping mall. ["It Never Rains In Queensgate"]
The six-strong company also play the instruments – almost a given these days – nice to hear a banjo and an accordion amongst many others. And they slip in and out of the costumes [clothes rails built into Charlie Cridlan's excellent set design, which combines architects' plans and drawing boards with the roads and street lights of the title].
Polly Nayler is touchingly trusting as Mary the mother, with Matt Ray-Brown as her man Jack, who finds, then loses, a job in Peterborough, and ends up a defeated alcohol-dependent failure. Central to this history is the eloquent Welshman Wyndham Thomas, for 15 years the head of the Peterborough Development Corporation, convincingly played by Harry Waller.
Any chance of an upbeat ending is undermined by Peter's litany of later-life troubles, reflecting the collapse of the Corporation and the death of the dream. They'd been afraid that "people" would spoil their plans, but in the end it wasn't the New Town Blues that scuppered the project [Castor, which does have a Roman past, never became the fourth township] but inner-city riots in far-off Toxteth and the subsequent shift in government policy.
Even in Cambridge, there was some knowing laughter at the local references, but the piece must have a special poignancy for the people of Peterborough, many of whom will remember at first hand the biggest Sainsbury's in the country, the "right to buy" and the Cresset in Bretton, still thankfully a live venue for the arts, not unknown to this hardworking touring outfit.
Next year, another look at Peterborough's history in The Burgh, a community play by Tony Ramsay.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews