From Plays and Players, April, 1959
FINGS AIN'T WOT THEY USED T'BE
Musical by Frank Norman, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. First performance at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, London, E.15, on February 17, 1959. Directed by Joan Littlewood, with settings by John Bury and costumes by Margaret Bury.
Frederick Cochran, GLYNN EDWARDS; Lilly Smith, EILEEN KENNALLY; Teddie Morris, BRIAN MURPHY; Sgt. Collins and George, RICHARD HARRIS; Betty, CARMEL CRYAN; Rosie, ANN BLACK; Tosher, JAMES BOOTH; REDHOT, EDWARD CADDICK; Horace Seaton, and Percy Fortesque, HOWARD GOORNEY; A "Mystery", SHELAGH DELANRY, and members of Theatre Workshop.
New geese being swans to the final glittering feather, I have been an admirer of Miss Joan Littlewood's work too short a time to admit that there could be the slightest flaw in it.
None the less I have to allow that fings ain't, y'know. Its title is a fair summing up of the current production of Theatre Workshop. But why? The play is lively if purposeless. The scene, which is a Soho gaming club, conscientiously teems with the entrances and exits of a cast of character actors devotedly doing their nut. The staging is Littlewood utility.
The play is punctuated with songs (if punctuated means stopped by) thrown into what ought to be the action like currants into dough and seemingly without much more premeditation. Perhaps the measure of the piece is that the best number, G'night Dearie, was better put over in Mr. Lionel Bart's Wally Pone, by a bunch of amateurs at Unity. Miss Shelagh Delaney, almost, one might swear, by way of apologia, comes popping out of a two-line part in the last act, having herself a strange little interlude.
The author has a quick enough ear for dialogue but he must dig his foundations a bit deeper and so enable himself to build his edifice to the point.
There were of course some good things in the picture of Soho cellerage. I shall try to call some of them to mind.
Most effective must have been Mr. James Booth's Tosher: a jumpy, gabbing gent who sends out girls. With less opportunity but with steadfastness of vision, Miss Eileen Kennally, last seen (by me) as Lady Macbeth, gives a performance in the round of Lily Smith, a faithful char. We laughed at Miss Carmel Cryan's Betty and with Miss Anna Beach's Rosey. But I did not believe that either of them walked the streets other than those painted on the old-time comedian's backcloths in touring revues. Mr. Glynn Edwards anchored this rudderless gas-inflated air-ship to the crazy earth off Old Compton Street with his technically assured boss of the spieler.
The play was by Mr. Frank Norman with songs by Mr. Lionel Bart and set by Mr. John Bury. And Mr. Peter Wildenblood, widely known to be with Soho musical, can breathe again.
I wish I could have liked it better. I wish I could have liked it period.
However, it was amusing to find young Chelsea patronising the show and fascinating to watch Miss Shelagh Delaney out front (ah! ah!) waiting her turn to be served in the Coffee Bar and wearing that much-publicized raincoat. One could not but reflect how much more modestly a threatre-workshop deb comports herself than her sister-under-the-squeal at Queen Charlotte's Ball.