You know me, I like a good swear, and a good literary swear is guaranteed to get me on side. Hence my fondness for Larkin, after studying The Whitsun Weddings at school and hearing tell of This Be The Verse. So obviously when I learnt that the quote "Don't let the bastards grind you down" was from Alan Sillitoe's debut novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, of course I had to put it on my reading list.
Good book, too. Nice pace; interesting insight into a particular era; great use of dialect, to which I'm also partial. Apparently it evolved from a set of short stories, which is also something to pique my interest, and it's credited as changing the history of the English novel. So when I spotted it on the spring/summer line-up at the Royal Exchange, I was already there. I couldn't wait to see how it would be adapted to the stage, by director Matthew Dunster.
Unfortunately, the opening number rather put me off: an all-singing-all-dancing fight scene with a bloke in a sailor's outfit (in land-locked Nottingham?). Thankfully, it proved to be a one-off and, as the plot took shape, further choreographed sections seemed more natural and did actually add depth to the production. Some innovative set design brought to life the Raleigh cycle factory where protagonist Arthur Seaton (played by Exchange debutant Perry Fitzpatrick) earns the money to keep him in snazzy rigouts, and the same special stage features were employed later on to produce an impressive representation of Goose Fair.
Rapid-fire overlapping dialogue and action moved the story along and gave a realistic impression of Arthur's hectic work-love life balance, then the important hot-bath-and-gin turning point slowed things right down to an almost excruciating pace, soundtracked by the ticking of a clock so languorous as to make the audience feel as drunk and dumbstruck as Brenda (very nicely portrayed by Clare Calbraith) in her desperate predicament.
The props were spot-on, as always with the Royal Exchange, and there were some lovely vintage bikes on show and some great authentic 1950s furniture. There were also some amazing costumes, and quite the display of old-fash conical bras and oversized suspender belts. In fact, there was not an unsubstantial amount of undressing, so, those of a delicate nature, be warned.
In terms of performances, most were spot-on and believable, and it was nice to see David Crellin pop us at Arthur's dad Harold, while Chanel Cresswell and Graeme Hawley made a very convincing Winnie and Jack, respectively. Arthur's accent slippage was a little distracting at times, and Doreen's mum (Jo Hartley) erred slightly too much towards hammy, although she is supposed to be a bit of a comedy character, I suppose, and these were minor issues. Doreen (Tamla Kari) also had a momentary slight slip-up when the standard lamp wouldn't switch off to put the stage in darkness at the end, but hey-ho, these things happen, and all in all it's definitely worth a trip.
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning continues until 7 April. See the Royal Exchange website for full details.