We'll Live and Die in These Towns, B2 Belgrade Theatre, until Oct 20.
At Last. A musical drama that celebrates the songs of one of the best bands ever to emerge from Coventry and forges them within a raw and relevant storyline.
Like the lyrics of Tom Clarke’s work on The Enemy’s breakout album, We’ll Live and Die in These Towns, the themes venture into a dark emotional landscape of anger and despair.
No soft bio-tribute this. At times it can be as bleak and challenging as a walk across Coventry precinct at midnight.
That said, If you are a fan of The Enemy you’ll love this show for the music alone.
The cast, led by a convincing Tom Milner, as Argy the angst-ridden lead singer, deliver the songs on turbo-charge, capturing the essence of the band.
Enemy anthems like You're Not Alone, We’ll Live and Die in these Towns, and of course the hit single, Away From Here, certainly lit the fire of the audience on opening night. They were up and dancing and cheering at the finale.
The play is a collaboration between Clarke, who is the show’s musical director, and Geoff Thompson, who started his working life as a Coventry nightclub bouncer before embarking on a career as a highly successful writer.
It’s hard not to assume that this is a dramatisation of Clarke’s own experiences. But he insists “it takes the songs way beyond anywhere I’ve ever seen them before.”
The story starts as the band prepare to for a gig that could shoot them from successful Indy act already tasting fame to headliners and fortune.
But charismatic singer Argy has a panic attack with just hours to go. He’s racked with fear and guilt and seeks out family and friends he’s discarded en-route to the Big Time.
At the core of his dilemma is coming to terms with the hard truth that this is the price he must pay to achieve his artistic goals. Either that or simply live and die in the town he has struggled so hard to leave.
Geoff Thompson, a student of ancient texts, says the inspiration for the play came from an allegory about humanities’ fears, centred on an Asian prince, Arjuna, who faced a choice between war or family.
That may seem a far cry from the council estates of Cov, Job Seekers Allowances and getting by on a wing and prayer while harbouring dreams of wealth and fame.
But it's a transition that works, and is not without humour, artfully scattered by Argy’s brother, agent, sister, old fling, and vicar. Even God gets a small part, unseen of course.
If there is a small criticism of an otherwise superb cast, it’s the occasional lapse into Brummie accents. Forgivable in Argy’s old spiv friend, as he makes it clear he travelled over from the Bull Ring every day (nice touch that he still had a security tab hanging from his too-sharp suit).
Coventrians may live and die in this town but they wouldn’t be seen dead sporting a nicked suit. Not from Brum, anyway.
Barbara Goulden writes, I didn't think I was a great fan of The Enemy but after watching We'll Live and Die In These Towns, the story Coventry writer Geoff Thompson has set around the local band....well, I am now.
The show is in the middle of a long run and the Belgrade's B2 auditorium us perfect for nine multi-talented actors who sing, play then twist into another character at the drop of a plectrum.
Full marks to B2 for its terrific staging with atmospheric photographs of the less wealthy areas of our city filling a whole wall.
I particularly admired Steven Serlin's desperate manager turned pyramid salesman as well as Tom Milner's portrayal of troubled lead singer Argy, running through his past as he tries to get to grips with performing before 20,000 people as a stage as a popular support act to the Rolling Stones.
Don't forget that while relatively short-lived as a rock band, The Enemy, were up there with the number one UK album in 2007.
Yes, there were times when the action dragged just a little - but I so identified with Argy's ill brother who liked to post his latest poems to the BBC, pinning all his hopes on two first class stamps and a manilla envelope. Us writers, and would-be writers, know all about that.
And at the end it was all about the music. And everyone was dancing.
Photos by Robert Day. Main picture (from left to right)Tom Milner, Andy Burse, Adam Sopp and Meg Forgan. Inset: Tom Milner and Mark Turnbull.