Theatre review: Rudy’s Rare Records at Hackney Empire
PUBLISHED: 17:16 03 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:16 03 October 2014
Following a deluge of film-to-stage transfers, Rudy’s Rare Records takes a more unusual route from Radio 4 sitcom to semi-musical theatre. The cosy formula remains intact – creaking plot mechanics more apparent in a meandering two and a half hours – but the addition of timely topics and uplifting live music results in pleasantly irresistible entertainment.
Lenny Henry (co-creator with Danny Robins) is Adam, aspirant yuppie returning to his native Birmingham following a failed acting career and messy divorce.
His elderly father, first-wave Jamaican immigrant Rudy (Larrington Walker), is doggedly defending his vinyl haven from the twin threats of digital downloads and ‘‘gentrifying’’ developers, while negotiating a fraught romance with local laundress Doreen (Lorna Gayle).
Henry generously plays nerdy straight man to Walker’s scene-stealing, incorrigible rogue, their dynamic more than a little reminiscent of Steptoe and Son.
Adding to the intergenerational conflict is Adam’s student son Richie (Joivan Wade), whose shocking revelation is the catalyst for affecting family drama.
Rudy’s reminiscences with Trinidadian florist Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon) are similarly stirring, banter tinged with wistful melancholy.
Conversely, the humour is broad and mostly too benign, though a few gags contain real barbs.
There’s some deft, perceptive commentary on multiculturalism and racial typecasting, impassioned views leavened by wit.
Throughout, a “rehearsing” reggae band supplies backing tracks that occasionally open up into fully performed covers – best is Gayle’s diva-licious You Don’t Love Me, aimed at commitment-phobic Rudy. However, Paulette Randall’s flat, unimaginative production never fully commits to an innovative musical format; both material and presentation play too safe.
Yet what Rudy’s Rare Records lacks in originality, it makes up for in heartfelt, old-fashioned charm. How apt that a show championing legacy and community should so effectively recall our comedy heritage while offering a genuinely inclusive experience.
Rating: 3/5 stars
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