The 1970s are alive and well on the stage of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. There is nothing in this touring London Palladium production that wouldn’t feel at home in the decade that taste forgot. This musical, full of catchy tunes, is based on the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, from the Book of Genesis. It was created as a school show by writer Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber when they were barely out of their teens. A 35-minute version had its professional premiere in 1972, and it grew legs during that decade.
Linzi Hateley plays The Narrator, initially appearing as a sort of school teacher, telling the kids an Old Testament bible story: Jacob favours Joseph over his 11 other sons, thus awakening their jealousy so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. Hateley’s performance is totally tongue-in-cheek. The entire show is simultaneously sending itself up and glorifying itself: a 2020s’ cynical self-consciousness overpowered by 1970s’ spangles and party poppers.
Jac Yarrow is Joseph and garners plenty of laughs as he pivots between a slave’s obsequiousness and an ambitious man’s pomp. The Pharoah’s song, a perennial Elvis-style favourite, is performed by Bobby Windebank. Clad in sparkly garb, surrounded by sexy Egyptian girls in harem pants; this number is pure pzazz.
Set and costume designer Morgan Large creates a pleasing set of four proscenium frames, with constellations of stars changing into many colours. There is fantastic over-the-top costuming; the famine-era skirts with a can-can lining are a particular highlight. Camel-headed bicycles and sheep-on-wheels cater cleverly for transport and livestock needs. Director Laurence Connor keeps the plates spinning and the tone wry. The kids are brilliantly integrated into the action, playing several adult parts as well as themselves, sporting grown-ups’ beards and giving it loads of sass.
The sound could have favoured the vocals more. I know all the words (the concept album was in heavy rotation during childhood) but for those new to the work, many of Rice’s excellent lyrics were drowned in the mix. However, the energy blast from the stage is irresistible; the 1970s are back, and they are doubling down.
Dublin’s declining dock life, told Behan-style
The Buttonmen at Viking Theatre, Clontarf
until August 20
Playwright and director Gary Brown delves into his family background for this drama of the Dublin docks. It is the 1970s: Dessie Dunne is a “buttonman”, an elite docker who receives privileged treatment and opportunity. His younger brother Gino is an ordinary labourer, lining up every morning hoping to be picked for work.
Dessie enhances his pay with a few side hustles and is happy with his lot. Gino has a keener understanding of how the system oppresses men like him, breaking their lungs and their spirits unloading dusty coal for hours in confined conditions. He has concocted a plan to escape his predicament but it involves a dangerous risk.
New songs (written by Damien Dempsey and Brown) are interspersed throughout, catchy dockers’ ballads about the minutiae of work and life. Gary Cooke as Dessie generates a superb singalong atmosphere, always ready to whip out the guitar and perform: this is theatre Brendan Behan style, full of Dublin wit. Andrew Murray as Gino has the more serious political material to carry; he is a small man pitched against enormous social odds. Brown’s script is far from subtle but its power accumulates and its authenticity is palpable. He creates a memorable picture of the last of the Dublin dockworkers, before automation calls a halt to it all. A poignant picture of two brothers caught in the sepia-tint of time.