Oldham Coliseum are certainly bound to excite their friendly Northern crowd with a brand-new stage production celebrating the life and talent of Dame Gracie Fields. Hailing from Rochdale, Gracie labelled herself as Britain’s most popular female entertainer of all time. It’s a big label and she’s a big character and there is no better place to stage the premiere of Philip Goulding’s new musical than ‘up’ at Oldham Coliseum.
Born just a short distance away from Oldham Coliseum above her grandmother’s chippy, Dame Gracie Fields first performed in the theatres of Oldham and Rochdale. The story of the local mill girl who became an international star continues to inspire many performers today.
Our Gracie is written in the style of the old music hall and incorporates live music and toe-tapping song along with movement and feel-good banter. Philip Goulding’s clever script documents Gracie Fields’ vibrant and inspirational life using her own words and infectious personality. The production transports us back to the Oldham Repertory Theatre Club of the 1960’s where we are ready to welcome Gracie Fields to the stage.
Sue Devaney takes on the title role and gives a phenomenal performance as Dame Gracie Fields; her beaming smile and rich Northern tone perfectly capture the down-to-earth personality and charming stage persona of the Rochdale-to-Hollywood star. What makes Devaney’s performance so special is her ability to connect with her audience, which arguably was also Gracie Fields’ greatest talent. Many of the audience sing and clap along enthusiastically as she belts out Sing As We Go, The Biggest Aspidistra In The World, Walter, Walter and her most famous signature tune Sally.
Six of Oldham Rep’s finest support Devaney in presenting the fascinating life of Dame Gracie Fields – playing a variety of roles between them, they present the intriguing characters that influenced Gracie during her vibrant life. As well as providing a wonderful live soundtrack, the talented company introduce us to George Formby, Laurence Olivier and Liberace. Often breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience – it’s refreshing and engaging and there is a powerful harmony between the audience and the performers. Liz Carney has a wonderfully sweet tone and gives a dedicated and wonderfully comic performance; Ben Stock generates genuine laughter from the spirited crowd as dedicated pianist Harry and flamboyant showman Liberace.
The music hall style is possibly not for everyone, packed with silly gags and an exaggerated acting style, but the Oldham crowd seemed to enjoy it on the night I attended. Regardless of this, Our Gracie is a wonderful trip down memory lane, filled with nostalgia and warm sentiment.
Our Gracie runs until 26th March 2016 at the Oldham Coliseum and you can click here to get your tickets.