Ealing has been my home for fifteen years now, and I know the location of the rhythm and blues club formed in 1961 by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies very well. Julian Smith writes and directs a love letter to that hidden alleyway.
It is where many musicians had their start, notably the Rolling Stones. It is just a few miles from the shop in Hanwell where the Marshall amp was first produced.
This play uses this real-life venue as the backdrop for an invented story of five teenagers and their experiences from that new club’s advert in the NME to come and find them (“down the steps between the ABC tearooms and the jewellers”) to the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963.
It’s a story we have all heard before, especially if you have watched British films of the period. The generation gap, the role of women, multiracial romance, drug and drink dalliance.
I found the short running time (around an hour) struggled to do justice to the two main stories (the cast – Kitty Armstrong’s Linda and Isaiah Bobb-Semple’s Face in love; Conrad O’Callaghan’s Joe following the lost chord) and and left the doot open for a sequel or a slightly longer piece.
There are funny moments at work and moments where music at play sparks into life, but each vignette could almost be its own piece.
The use of slides to centre where we are in place and time is definitely inspired – but Linda’s family of Jonny Wise’s dad, Papadatos’s ironing mother, and O’Callaghan’s frightwigged sister feels more than a bit Pythonesque.
Aimed at a crowd who were teens themselves in the swingin’ 60s, The Ealing Club captures the raw energy and hope of the postwar generation, with their CND badges (Alexandra Papadatos’s Sandie, morphing into Joe’s traditional dad) and fervour to change the world.
The scenes outside the club as the friends meet every Saturday night for their fix of John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters feel just right; the moments of a love affair blooming on the number 12 bus and on the frozen Thames of winter 1962 are sweet and well-crafted.
The Ealing Club certainly has potential (and if you are at all interested do watch the screen documentary Suburban Steps to Rockland which will tell you all you need to know) but I wanted more story, more music, more history.
A quick mention to off-stage musicians Gareth Bevan and Wilfie Goodliffe, who get those guitar riffs and strums buzzing. And after every show a local band plays and you’re invited for drinks, dance, and nostalgia.
The Ealing Club has been the fastest selling show at the Questors, and tickets are currently available for the final performance (so far!) on 29 October at 7.30pm. I am certain this play will have a future life.
Image credit: The Questors Theatre/Jane Arnold-Forster