Theatre Review: Song of the Sytch – by Claybody Theatre @ Spode


Claybody Theatre is gaining widespread renown for its contribution to the drama scene in North Staffordshire. With its locally-based content and its use of spaces not originally designed for the presentation of plays – not to mention its customer-friendly pricing plan – the company has a growing reputation for its innovation and its stagecraft.

The latest offering – Song of the Sytch -continues that upward spiral of dramatic excellence. Set in a run-of-the-mill pub sited in the Sytch area of Burslem, the action covers six epic months in 1938-39 as the UK moved from “Peace In Our Time” to the realisation that preparation for the forthcoming conflict was necessary with the appointment of ARP wardens and the issue of gas masks to all civilians.

The Pelican is run by Alice Oaks (Polly Lister) with the assistance of her politically-aware barmaid Lottie Franklin (Alyce Liburd). Despite her recent bereavement after losing her husband Billy to a heart attack, Alice decides to carry on as normal even though her late husband’s body is lying in the back room.

The landlady takes that decision in memory of Billy and because her clientele is built up of former mining friends who rescued him after a mining accident. It also hosts its own Male Voice Choir that uses the pub for rehearsals and was a particular love of the deceased. A leading member of the choir is pottery owner Charlie Warham (Jack Quarton) who is a regular drinker who often stays till Last Orders.

Warham is an assistant to Choirmistress Dorothy Liversage (Victoria Brazier) who is clearly from a higher echelon in society than that which she currently finds herself. An aloof character, Liversage is resistant to change but holds a secret that she is anxious remains hidden.

One plus point about Billy’s death is that she will once more see her beloved son Douglas (Thomas Cotran). Douglas flew from the family nest in mysterious circumstances and has rarely been in touch since his departure. Now a sergeant in Staffordshire Constabulary, Douglas’ arrival bodes ill for drayman Daniel Kelly (Eddy Westbury) who is clearly delivering more than bottles of stout as Alice struggles to balance the books.

Every member of the cast has a secret to be revealed. What extras are being delivered by Danny? Who is distributing anti-war literature? Why is Douglas still not stepping out with someone and why did he leave his family home so suddenly? Why does Charlie remain at The Pelican until the last possible moment?

All is revealed in gripping fashion as we see a back-street pub become affected by far-away events and by the peccadillos of its customers.

The tale sees the characters woven together with a superb script from the pen of Deborah McAndrew and the Direction of Conrad Nelson but there is a delicious sub-plot as we follow the evolution of the Choir.  Delightfully played by the Cor Bach Male Voice Choir, this strand to the play gives the opportunity for the characters to forget their differences and become a unified body. It also offers the delights of musical interludes – The Best Things In Life Are Free is magnificent – that act to heighten the drama that surrounds them.

Song of the Sytch is a sell-out and rightly so. Everything about the production hits the top notes. The interaction among the players, the script, the music, the staging and the location are all out of this world. Claybody does everything a local company should do and then succeeds in exceeding the audience’s expectations.

Bravo and Encore!!!