Saturday, 13 October 2007

Union Street - Oldham Coliseum

Union Street by Ian Kershaw
Oldham Coliseum: 11th-27th October
Directed by Kevin Shaw
Reviewed by Mal Wallace

The Oldham Coliseum has a reputation for encouraging and promoting new works by up and coming writers in quality productions. Union Street substantiates this reputation with aplomb. The play, written by award winning writer Ian Kershaw, has been specially created for the Coliseum and in part serves as a good natured homage to the rivalry that exists between Oldham and her neighbouring towns with many jestful references and fun poked particularly at Bolton throughout the evening.

The story, set in a struggling pub and local garden, is told part in the present and part through flashback covering the previous twenty years and centres around Jo, a middle aged woman who strives for more but never seems to achieve. During the time span Jo feels increasingly frustrated and let down by the men in her life and very nearly settles for less than she desires until, in true dramatic style, fate lends a hand and upon learning the truth about an incident from twenty years ago Jo reassess her relationships and is able to look to a brighter future.

Two predominant themes are explored throughout the play. Love is one, and it is clear that Jo certainly has love in one form or another for each of the men in her life. The second major theme centres on the struggle for the people of Oldham to accept the growing ethnic community. During act 1 references to multiculturalism appear to be a laboured attempt to incorporate a political agenda but later on in act 2 the theme proves integral to the resolution of the plot and is handled sensitively by the writer.

Gemma Wardle as Jo confidently leads the cast and rises to the challenge of displaying a huge range of emotions and a stunning singing voice. Her men are also well played in particular Kyl Messios as Sam who, as the one true love of Jo’s life, successfully makes the transition from protagonist to antagonist and back again with skill and depth of character. Paul Loughran as seemingly loveable Jim plays the part with great empathy which juxtaposes nicely with Phil Rowson’s ignorant and bigoted Ste, although credit must go to Phil Rowson for one of his early scenes where her provides the biggest laughs of the evening as he awkwardly tries to woo the young teenage Jo. Special mention to the young people of Oldham Theatre Workshop who provide a chorus of very professional standards and relish showing off the outrageous fashions of the 1980’s.

Director Kevin Shaw keeps the play zipping along at a nice pace and this is helped by musical director Howard Gray’s sensitively timed musical interludes and songs which on the whole serve to enhance the performance. The set by Alison Heffernan is very effective and is complimented beautifully by Thomas Weir’s excellent lighting design the marriage of which is in perfect keeping with the presence of the play.

Photos show: Top - Paul Loughran (Jim) Middle - Gemma Wardle (Jo) & Cast, Bottom - Gemma Wardle (Jo) & Phil Rowson (Ste)

Union Street continues until 27th October visit www. for more information
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