Theatre review: Underwood Lane – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

First published in The Times, Saturday July 16 2022

THREE STARS

For all his renown as a visual artist and playwright, in a career spanning five decades, John Byrne is also synonymous with rock’n’roll. Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin’ Heart, the hit television serials he wrote for the BBC, both of which charted the travails of aspiring musicians, are as much remembered for their soundtracks as their storylines. Byrne also designed album covers for his friend and Paisley compatriot Gerry Rafferty, and his bands, the Humblebums and Stealers Wheel.

This new work was written in memory of Rafferty, and it contains recognisable biographical elements, including being named after a street in the Ferguslie Park community, where Byrne and Rafferty grew up. The story of a talented singer-songwriter, Dessie Devlin (a confident debut from Marc McMillan), who dreams of hitting the big time with a skiffle outfit in the early Sixties, is a familiar premise, though Byrne crams the band’s short-lived career with incident.

Pic: Eoin Carey

Over a couple of years the group, with its ever-changing name and personnel, endures creative spats, a love triangle and a surfeit of tragedy. The drama is leavened with earthy humour and moves at a lick. At times you wish the playwright, and Andy Arnold, the director, could have dabbed the brakes a little, to allow the action its due emotional weight.

Pic: Eoin Carey

If Byrne is in the end too kind and moderate a writer to dwell on real heartache, the staging of the musical numbers packs the required emotional punch. Beautifully arranged by Hilary Brooks, the musical director, and performed by the ten-strong ensemble, rotating seamlessly around an array of instruments, classics of the hit parade, from Teenager in Love to It’s Only Make Believe, underline each episode, rather than furthering the story. Meanwhile, Arnold, and Becky Minto, the set designer, convincingly bring to life a bustling community at a moment of transition.

Box office: 0141 552 4267, to July 30. Tron.co.uk

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Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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