Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Day We Sang

The Day We Sang - Copyright MIF 2011

That Day We Sang - by Victoria Wood

Review by Amy McIntyre and Dick Downing

It’s not that unusual to have a community choir, often with young people in it, singing on the professional stage. It’s more unusual for it to be made up entirely of primary school pupils.

Victoria Wood’s play with songs is about the Manchester School Children’s Choir, and its hugely successful recording of ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ in 1929.

No. Really it’s about how a subsequent loss of sense of joy affected two imagined members of that choir as their lives unfolded, and how they overcame that loss.

Lots of us got to sing as primary aged children. How many of us went on to sing in secondary schools and beyond? And how many more settled into a largely joyless adulthood, with little chance of creative expression and fulfilment?

The Day We Sang - Copyright MIF 2011

VW constructs a beautiful device through which one particular character rediscovers excitement and joy in his life. A boy from an unpromising background loves to sing, to the point that he is put in detention and nearly misses out on an audition for the choir. We have already met the boy as an adult (little Jimmy turned into middle-aged Tubby, a beautiful performance by Vincent Franklin) and see both boy and man anxiously awaiting the audition decision of the choir mistress. The two then share the journey towards the famous Columbia Records recording. At the same time, a shy girl becomes a shy woman, expressing her frustration at being saddled with the name Enid in a classic Wood song along the lines of ‘Let’s do it’ (remember - ‘beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly’?), brilliantly delivered by Jenna Russell.

The adult boy and the adult girl get it together and rediscover joyfulness. But how many don’t? For how many will secondary school and a humdrum career forever eradicate their playfulness? Mr Gove should come and see this play and realise that secondary education needs to include the creative and expressive opportunities that could help sustain a sense of engagement, teamwork, playfulness - and joy - for more kids. His batty baccalaureate pretty much precludes secondary schools from giving those sorts of experiences across the board, leaving it to the resourceful (and resourced) parents of privileged kids while overlooking ‘a scruffy lot of elementary school brats’.

The Day We Sang - Copyright MIF 2011

It won’t be ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ that does it for today’s kids (probably!). It might be rap, or pop or heavy metal or whatever. ‘That Day We Sang’ reminds us all that we need joyfulness in our lives. Singing is a pretty good start, and education as a whole can do with a damn site more of it – joyfulness, that is. This show, dripping with nostalgia (for Berni Inns and Wimpy Bars even!) really is about now.

Come on Govey, give all the kids a chance for joy; you know you want to!

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