Friday, 15 May 2009

Looking For Buddy - Live Theatre

Looking For Buddy
Writer: Alan Plater
Director: Mark Babych

Composer: Alan Barnes

Reviewer: Ian Cain

Tim Healy makes a welcome return to Newcastle’s Live Theatre, the company that he co-founded in 1973, to star in a quirky jazz musical, ‘Looking For Buddy.’
The play is ostensibly a pastiche of the styles of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and Healy plays Phil, a struggling architect and ‘Geordie’ version of Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer.

The playwright, Jarrow-born Alan Plater, weaves themes of regeneration, corporate corruption and Northern grit into the storyline and wraps them up with plenty of local references and liberal sprinklings of nostalgia.

The unexpected arrival of Ella, a beautiful bottle blonde (Jayne MacKenzie), who turns up in Phil’s office under the misapprehension that he is a private detective, is the catalyst that leads to Phil becoming embroiled in a search for a recording by Buddy Bolden, the late-great jazz trumpeter from New Orleans, that was thought not to exist. Subsequently, Phil is plunged into danger as he takes on the corrupt Good Earth Corporation, intent on regenerating much of Wallsend, to the detriment of its Roman heritage.

As he becomes increasingly aware of the implications of the situation, Phil enlists the help of his Marxist sister, Bella (Jane Holman), Frank the Fitter, an ex-shipyard worker who now makes gourmet sandwiches (Phil Corbitt), and Fat Jack, owner of The Blue Note Jazz Club in Wallsend’s ‘lower east side.’

He encounters the coldly efficient Zelda (Jacqueline Boatswain), the representative of the Good Earth Corporation and is warned not to interfere with their plans by her henchman.

The cast give great performances that incorporate drama, comedy and song and the evening rolls along at a perfect pace. Alan Barnes has penned a score that suits the piece perfectly and encompasses jazz, blues and skiffle. The numbers are performed by an on-stage three-piece band.Director Mark Babych has given the piece an intimacy that perfectly suits the venue and Healy’s ‘asides’ to the audience contribute further to the effect.

This is a play that is designed more to entertain than to make political points and it does so handsomely. The audience are constantly kept guessing as to whether Phil will find Buddy Bolden’s rare recording, how he will deal with the sinister and menacing Good Earth Corporation and if he will succeed in getting the girl. To find out, take a trip to Live Theatre – you won’t be disappointed!

‘Looking For Buddy’ runs at Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne until Saturday 13 June 2009.

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