THE DRIFTERS GIRL – Theatre Royal Plymouth

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14 February 2024

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3***

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There are no two ways about it, if you are a fan of The Drifters then you will be in seventh heaven watching this extremely slick and very well performed show. The list of songs numbers 25 (plus extra at the curtain). The famous R&B/Soul/DooWop quartet started life in 1953 and, believe it or not, are still in existence 70 years later – amazing; though the line-up has changed with the weather forecast!

‘The Drifters Girl’ tells the story of their ground-breaking, hard-nosed and hard-working manager, Faye Treadwell, whose determination to make the group succeed and to fight off those standing in their way is definitely inspiring. As played by Carly Mercedes Dyer she is a powerhouse in the acting as well as the singing stakes; her song vocals raise the roof. The band members through the years as well as assorted other characters (including a very amusing version of Bruce Forsyth) are played by a hugely talented quartet of performers who are exemplary in everything they do on stage; Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and Daniel Haswell are outstanding individually and tremendous when they are together.

The scenes are seamlessly sewn together with the sliding sets of Anthony Ward, the lighting of Ben Cracknell and the video designs of Andrzej Goulding. Backing up the singing is the first-rate orchestra under the direction of Dustin Conrad.

Much is delivered by the musicians and performers, but the show is sadly lacking in any depth in its storytelling – book by Ed Curtis. We hear very little about Faye’s background and such is the dizzying rush through the members of the band that any relationship she strikes up with any of them is so thinly narrated that it is barely worth a mention; even her relationship with her husband George is sketchy. As a result it is very hard indeed to find any emotional connection with the protagonists leaving one disconnected. One member of the cast not mentioned so far is entitled ‘Girl’ – the daughter of Faye and George, played here by Jaydah Bell-Ricketts. This is a very odd role with the performer spending quite a lot of time standing to one side watching the action – some kind of narrative plot device giving someone for Faye to tell her story too – her real-life daughter, Tina, was to succeed her as the manager of the group. It doesn’t work and the performer looks awkward and not part of the show.

Issues such as race and prejudice are glimpsed at; hurdles the group had to overcome, which they did, but these are offered up as rather glib comic gestures and thus glossed over. As with similar shows like ‘Buddy’, ‘Motown’ and ‘Beautiful’ the story is compromised in order to pack the stage time with songs – there is a great tale to tell here, but it is not told well and it is told without emotion or detail – a real pity. If you want to tell a story as a musical, tell it; if you want to offer a concert do that instead – this hybrid of the two isn’t one thing or the other.

I do, though take my hat off to the quality of the production and the performers who do a great job and ensure the fans of the group and their music genre, get their fill. It is an entertaining and some time amusing show but is too superficial to really shine.

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Cast & Creatives

Carly Mercedes Dyer – Faye Treadwell

Miles Anthony Daley – George Treadwell & Others

Ashford Campbell – Ben E King, Rudy Lewis & Others

Tarik Frimpong – Clyde McPhatter, Lover Paterson & Others

Daniel Haswell – Johnny Moore, Gerhart Thrasher & Others

Jaydah Bell-Ricketts – Girl

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Book – Ed Curtis

Based on an idea by Tina Treadwell

Co-Created by Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry, Beverley Knight, Tosh Wanogho-Maud

Director – Jonathan Church

Set Designer – Anthony Ward

Choreographer – Karen Bruce

Costume Design – Fay Fullerton

Lighting Design – Ben Cracknell

Sound Design – Tom Marshall

Video Design – Andrzej Goulding

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