dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
How seventies music fought the National Front
Birmingham writer Robin French takes us back to the seventies when the country was riven with racial tension and music was a battleground. While singers such as Eric Clapton stood on stage at the Birmingham Odeon and urged people to vote for Enoch Powell, other musicians founded Rock Against Racism – a grass-roots battle to prove music could bring people together.
It's against this background that French brings us the story of a friendship between two girls Denise and Trudi. The two don't care that one is black and the other white – what matters to them is that they are best friends. As Denise becomes increasingly involved in the Rock Against Racism movement, Trudi joins her – until a split loyalty brings tragedy at a march in Birmingham.
With a soundtrack featuring music by local bands including The Specials, Steel Pulse and Dexy's Midnight Runners there's plenty of energy packed into this 100-minute show as the cast of three race through the years, through the songs and through the story. There's lots of nostalgia for the long hot summer of 1976 but also reminders of the political crises surrounding the car industry and seemingly endless industrial actions.
At times it feels like there's too much energy in the production. The cast frequently breaks into song, with new lyrics to seventies' tracks but the sound levels make it hard to decipher what they are singing. The frustration here is that the new lyrics are clearly taking the story forward but their lack of clarity leave some of us behind.
There's also a lot packed into this show. Denise is struggling to hold onto a wayward father who drifts in and out of her life, deceiving both her and her mother as it suits him. Trudi is trying to find a place in the world for someone who isn't achieving at school and has little prospect of a bright future. Add to this her brother Dudley is veering back and forth between racism and tolerance, pulling her loyalties both ways. In fact, there are so many disks spinning it's sometimes hard to keep track of where the focus actually is.
Lauren Foster's Denise is a teenager keen to learn and to find her place in life. Quickly embracing all that Rock Against Racism stands for, she is clear in her stance. Hannah Millward is a feisty Trudi who follows Denise down the anti-racism path despite admitting she doesn't understand much of what it's all about. And Nathan Queeley-Dennis takes on the male roles of Denise's hapless father and the committed activist and punk Andrew.
Commissioned by Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with Middle Child, the production is premiered in The Door whose small space ensures all of the audience become part of the story – especially when we are urged to get on our feet and dance. Co-created between French and director Alex Brown, it certainly brings alive the hopes, fears and extremes of the seventies.
However as the final scenes take us into the present day, we are also reminded how much racism and discrimination of all forms remain a huge part of society today. While it's encouraging to see how music can make statements and make a difference, we're also left with the message there's a long way still to go.
At The Door until October 5, Rebel Music then tours local community venues until late October. For details of the tour seehttps://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/rebel-music.html