Making Tracks: World Premiere ReviewsThis page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Making Tracks at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in December 1981. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced.
Relaxed Musical - With A Hint Of Fun (by Iain Meekley)
"Only Alan Ayckbourn could create a play which pokes sly fun at the conventions and conceits of the pop world, and at the same time write into the script a perfectly straight-faced love song beginning, "I don't remember you - were you the man who fixed my fridge?"
But he and Paul Todd get away with it spectacularly in Making Tracks, the partnership's second full-length musical play, premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre last night.
In contrast to Suburban Strains, the 1980 Ayckbourn-Todd collaboration, Making Tracks is much less structured in its format, much more relaxed in tempo - and sounds and looks as though the duo had a lot of fun putting the show together.
While Strains was a cats-cradle of tangled relationships between characters, the plot of Making Tracks is, by comparison, skeletal.
Down-at-heel impresario Stan needs a hit record in a hurry. He is being leaned on heavily by a camel-hair-coated East End gentleman to whom he owes a great deal of money, who has advised him that if a chart-topper is not forthcoming by 6pm, he is going to start losing fingers, son. All Stan has to work with is a seedy, sock-smelling basement recording studio, three indifferent musicians, and a Harmony hair-sprayed no-hoper from the local working men's club who calls herself Sandy Beige.
Stan's frantic attempts to turn this dross into gold disc material before pickaxe-handle time comes round take up most of the lines of Making Tracks, which is therefore a vehicle with comfortable room inside for the show's eleven songs.
Paul Todd's signature on the tunes is unmistakeable, and while some of the melodies seem slightly derivative of Suburban Strains, at least three songs are worth a backtrack.
Two splendid voices are brought together with Gillian Bevan, playing the not-so-fragile girlfriend, Lace, and Roger Llewellyn, as the agitated impresario, in the touching and eloquent Someone Wrong - that's the one with the fridge in it.
Gillian Bevan, a dynamo in black satin pants, fairly scorches out the big production number, Making Tracks.
Lavinia Bertram's role as the hopeful Sandy requires her to sing rather less well than she in fact can, but she makes up for it on Recording You, a beautiful four-voice piece, with Gillian Bevan, Roger Llewellyn, and Peter Ackerman, who plays Rog, the besotted sound engineer.
Robin Bowerman looms threateningly as the predatory Wolfe, the "businessman" with a thing about fracturing fingers.
The recording studio sets means that Paul Todd and fellow theatre musicians Dave Newton and lain Hawkins can share the stage instead of being tucked out of the way on a platform somewhere, and gives the musical arrangements a relaxed, rehearsal-room feel.
Making Tracks is directed by Ayckbourn himself."
(Scarborough Evening News, 12 December 1981)
Making Tracks (by Robin Thornber)
"Alan Ayckbourn has at last laid the ghost of Jeeves. The failure of that foray into working outside his normal patch unsettled him. At the same time it seems to have stimulated him into proving that he is not going to be beaten by the musical form.
At his home base in Scarborough, he and Paul Todd, resident musical director, have started working on ways to use music in his playing, exploring the techniques of musical theatre in lunchtime, in late night shows and revues like Men On Women On Men.
They built more songs into plays like Sisterly Feelings* which show that Paul Todd's music ranges wider than the smoochy cabaret style that we know him for. Rice and Lloyd Webber can make hit musicals out of one good tune. If Ayckbourn and Todd aren't a commercial success, that will be the West End's loss.
Making Tracks integrates the music into the action by setting the story in a seedy small time recording studio. Its oily manager (Roger Llewellyn) needs an instant hit to repay a loan from an unsavoury backer (Robin Bowerman). And in a fraught Sunday session the musicians and technicians try to make something out of the hopeless young hopeful he's picked up in a club.
So the stage is cluttered with electronic gear, and the guitarist and keyboard player are brought on as unspeaking extras - one because he is preoccupied with a wayward wife, the other never speaking before noon anyway and his watch has stopped. Paul Todd, playing the drummer, gets a lot of the laughs out of carefully laid, running gags.
The show is, I suppose, about "ethnics, you know, being nice to each other" as the winsome young sound engineer (Peter Ackerman) says. It is as intricately contrived as ever, with the cross-talk honed almost to the syllable as the actors move around the studio, mouthing silently as they pass out of range of the mikes.
Playing the poor girl with no talent must be a challenging part for Lavinia Bertram, who is actually quite a charming singer. But the device of making her incapable of being coached into a simple musical phrase is as effective as the old pantomime song sheet routine. It ensures that the audience at least is familiar with the climactic curtain number when Gillian Bevan, as the impresario's ex-wife, finally saves the day."
(The Guardian, 18 December 1981)
* Sisterly Feelings does not have any songs in it, so presumably it is referring either to music within the play (Paul Todd provided incidental music for Sisterly Feelings) or Robin Thornber confused Sisterly Feelings with the previous Ayckbourn / Todd musical collaboration Suburban Strains.
Making Tracks (by David Jeffels)
"The brilliant wit of Alan Ayckbourn has produced yet another hit play.
Making Tracks is the 27th play** to be penned by Ayckbourn, the most prolific comedy playwright of the century, in his 15-year career. Almost all have found their way to London's West End after being premiered in Scarborough at the Stephen Joseph Theatre where Ayckbourn is director of productions.
His latest, a musical written with Paul Todd, musical director at the theatre, is based on his career at the BBC studios in Leeds, several years ago, and centres around a timid dance-band singer who is "discovered" by a financially desperate impresario.
The "glamour" of a recording studio, heavily in debt and anxious to find a hit song and singer, has provided Ayckbourn with an ideal vehicle for his latest play. As always, his deep insight into his characters and his in-depth study of human nature shines through.
The talents of Ayckbourn and Todd marry well together and in Making Tracks, their second full-length play, they are seen at their very best. Superbly hilarious dialogue is matched by some highly original and extremely clever musical arrangements and numbers.
Eleven catchy numbers by Paul Todd, backed by a highly capable trio, add sparkle and entertainment value to this play which has all the ingredients of a big stage hit.
Perhaps the two most outstanding performances of this highly polished company are given by Roger Llewellyn as the impresario and his ex-wife, cum gangster's moll, Gillian Bevan, who crowns an excellent performance with a magnificent display of singing in the final number which gives the show its name.
Also taking part are Peter Ackerman, Lavinia Bertram, Dave Newton, Paul Todd, lain Hawkins, Robin Bowerman, and Susan Uebel.
The direction is by Alan Ayckbourn, sound by Jane Smailes, design by Michael Holt and Francis Lynch is responsible for the lighting."
(The Stage, 24 December 1981)
Melodies That Cover The Tracks (by Eric Shorter)
Alan Ayckbourn has been toying with music lately. And why not? He enjoys a challenge. He does not believe exactly in musical comedy but in comedies with music - a much more perilous genre, for the tunes tend to hold up or to distort the action.
They seemed extraneous in Suburban Strains and they make rather a mess of Making Tracks, his latest collaboration with the composer Paul Todd at the Stephen Joseph Theatre it the Round, Scarborough.
It is tough at the bottom of the rock music world. That is the theme and if the people are as dull and devoid of talent as the denizens drawn by Mr Ayckbourn, who can wonder? He brings on as heroine a naive and diffident aspirant to stardom who has no ear for music or sense of rhythm but whom the manager heard singing in some dance hall. She hangs about the studio all day and eventually goes home after failing to supply the hit tune required for the recording studio to survive.
Because she is acted by the subtle Lavinia Bertram in the most under-written role of the year she is tolerably charming. But she is a bore, like much of the play itself, because it cannot create sympathy for so many uninteresting people and cannot devise a way of letting us know when the music is first, second or third rate.
There is, however, a good deal of incidental fun, not only at the expense of the heroine's stupidity but also in the marginal anxieties to placate the violent hoodlum (Robin Bowerman) who is backing the resourceless enterprise and in the question of whether the manager's wife, now the hoodlum's moll, will come back secretly and lend her raucous voice to the hit song.
Mr Ayckbourn also observes the technical paraphernalia of recording studios with a nice dry humour; but Mr Todd's melodies, though ingenuous and sometimes melodious, confuse or contradict the slim characterisation so that it is easy to give up caring what happens to anyone some time before the winning tune gets hauled out. Director: Mr Ayckbourn. Perhaps someone else would have been advisable."
(Daily Telegraph, 18 December 1981)
** Making Tracks is now considered to be Alan Ayckbourn's 28th full-length play.
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.