Homophobia, sexism and class disputes; Juke Box Baby at Salford Arts Theatre included a broadband of societal issues. Performed by 9 actors and being the second instalment of 1956 Theatre’s rep season, the play felt very intimate and refreshing. Set in the swinging 50s in New York, two brothers face the hardships of life and go through several rites of passages to discover freedom and love.
Because Bobby is about to lose his baseball scholarship, his older brother Jimmie writes an outstanding essay to save Bobby’s grade. The suspicious, but impressed teacher quickly figures out the real author and tries to help him getting a grip on his life and finding a job with a future. Jimmie’s and Bobby’s vulnerability in the face of an abusive father and societal pressure are shocking yet humane.
The strongest point of the play was the original script written by Lee Lomas, who also plays the elder of the brothers. The script could easily be imagined as a musical at the West End because of the very relatable and authentic themes. Furthermore, Lomas managed to create a rare connectivity between the characters and events in the play, every moment and role had a voice and purpose and the cast was chosen accordingly. Especially Lee Lomas performed brilliantly as Jimmie and Bradley Cross as JC, the always enthusiastic, but often victimised friend let the audience roar with laughter. Graham Eaglesham impressed as well in the double role as the alcoholic father and helpful teacher.
Although the themes of the play were very relevant, it sometimes seemed a bit like a too stereotypical portrayal of the 50s in the United States, but that might have been intentional to achieve a parody effect. Another question is why was the play set overseas? It would have been refreshing and more natural to see a similar story in the 50s set in England or Greater Manchester. Despite their best efforts, the Brooklyn Accents which the actors tried to adapt did not always seem completely authentic and sometimes distracted from the poignant performance abilities of the actors.
The play was notwithstanding a pleasure to witness and the talented actors gripped the audience with their performances, especially the small stage with a rather minimalist set design created a wonderful atmosphere for a delightful night accompanied by the sounds of Rock’n’Roll in Salford.
Don’t miss Juke Box Baby (running until the 18th of October) and the other 2 Rep performances!
4 out of 5 stars
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