A country music Full Monty? More like a line dancing version of Give My Head Peace
You know a show’s in trouble when a Steps song is the highlight of the night. By the time Ian 'H' Watkins and Faye Tozer lead the cast in a rendition of their reunited pop band’s hit ‘5, 6, 7, 8’, all hope has been lost that Rhinestone Mondays might be country music’s answer to The Full Monty. It’s more like a line dancing version of Give My Head Peace.
Joe Graham’s musical comedy is half an hour too long, lacks a strong script and sags whenever Shaun Williamson – who plays wisecracking barman, Brian – isn’t on stage. A famed workaholic, Williamson makes the most of proceedings, booming his lines with relish. It’s almost worth the price of admission to hear the EastEnders and Extras star mouth the name of his character’s rival pub, ‘the Munching Muuule’.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a down-at-heel group of line dancing enthusiasts who come together every Monday to rehearse in the grotty Warbleswick Social Club. It is a dilapidated establishment that comprises the production’s only set for most of its running time. The characters are the usual assortment – a single mum, a gay man, a sex-mad older lady, a hunk with a heart of gold, an OAP, a Peggy from Hi-De-Hi! type…
This motley crew have to get their act together in time to appear at some gala concert or other, though naturally it’s all just somewhere to hang the show’s selection of country music staples.
The likes of ‘Crazy’, ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, ‘When You’re Hot You’re Hot’, ‘Stand by Your Man’ and, of course, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ are duly trotted out, and to be fair the cast sing them well, particularly Lyn Paul, formerly of 70s group, the New Seekers.
Script-wise, Williamson bags most of the good lines. ‘Your only hope now is you’ll die young,’ he tells hapless Munching Mule employee, Tom (Anthony Topham), whose will-they-won’t-they courtship of dancing teacher, Annie (Tozer) keeps the audience if not on the edge of their seats, then at least not asleep on the floor. Later, Brian advises a despondent Tom, ‘Become an alcoholic. What harm can it do?’
These darker moments are welcome, and there’s also some fun to be had with Phil Pritchard’s Ronald – sorry, Clint, as the Americana obsessive insists on being called. He’s not a likeable character, but he’s worth a few laughs. The same cannot be said for Pauline Fleming’s Mary, however, who is landed with a lame running gag about wind-inducing beans.
Still, the crowd here tonight are less pernickety than this writer, and they lap up the bad humour, the suggestive dance moves and the cheery singalongs. Rhinestone Mondays certainly knows its audience. There are jokes about replacement hips and angina, while one character is said to look ‘younger than Dolly Parton – well, bits of her’.
By the time we’re dragged to our feet to join in with a line dancing lesson, it’s clear that Rhinestone Mondays is aimed at the less discerning theatregoer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course – just don’t expect me to do the chasse or the grapevine.
Rhinestone Monday's runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, October 15.