REVIEW: The Bobby Wilson Story – A Milford boy comes home
A musical play by Jeff Dunn, directed by Lloyd Grayshon. Musical director Jerome Davies.
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
Thursday, March 1 to Saturday March 3, 2012

THE idea for The Bobby Wilson Story has been buzzing around Mercury columnist Jeff Dunn’s head for the last 40 years or so, and in what he says will be his last production he has finally chosen to reveal all.

Jeff has penned a number of stage plays over the past 20 years including The Day War Broke Out, Land Ladies and War and Pieces of Milford, renowned for their witty writing, local references and the talent of all involved in bringing his characters to life. This musical play, while retaining many of his trademark touches, is unlike any other and an ambitious format that couldn’t be trickier to pull off.

Part gig, part play, part screening, and fictional but with enough local references to satisfy the writer’s regular fans, The Bobby Wilson Story has a bit of everything thrown in, humour, pathos, tragedy, music, great videos, and some outstanding performances.

The over-arching premise is that once famous pop icon Bobby Wilson, who made it big after heading to London as a teenager, returns home to Milford decades later for one final gig with a look back at his rise to stardom and subsequent crash and burn.

This play presents Bob Phillips, who brings Bobby Wilson to life, with a huge challenge as the star of a gig going on in the present who leads his audience through his life, with flashback dramatic scenes, and performances of his ‘hits’. The show leaps about the decades and format, and some songs are better than others, making it a tough ask but there were many great moments particularly when he had the chance to show off his acting and singing chops in the action.

Support comes in the form of an array of the characters from Bobby’s past played by a strong cast including director Lloyd Grayshon as cousin Ian, Sarah Hanley as girlfriend and music journalist Maggie Martin, Janine Grayshon as Selena Mowbury, Naomi Harrison who makes a great fan and Hannah Mayne as Jenny Phillips, plus many more (see list below).

But no matter how good you are there are always those characters who steal the show and here Geraint Sayers as gay record boss Tommy Bent was an absolute scream. Viv Barrat, as Bobby’s Auntie Eileen who sits on stage throughout, not only gets many of the best lines but expertly delivers them to the delight of the audience.

The ideas in this production are certainly brilliant, the more you think about it the cleverer it becomes, but with such a complicated set-up it’s hard for an amateur production to pull it all off and the audience was clearly a little dazed and confused in places.

The music won’t be to all tastes, but there is some variety as the show moves through the decades, plus two brilliant music videos featuring ‘Victor Vomit’ (Nigel Orchard) and ‘Lisa Macaroni’ (Mary-Jane). There were also some stand out moments from the band with brilliant guitar action, which particularly in act two added real emotion to the drama going on and it’s great to see a live band on stage in a show for a change.

Throw in a few present film clips of interviews with people who ‘knew’ Bobby and a couple of shocks along the way, and you have one well conceived story.

Like many that have gone before this production’s dark side is that it is just so ambitious and bursting with ideas that it doesn’t quite work in places. At the interval, and at the end, there were those who just didn’t quite know what to make of it all and the language in places drew a few gasps from the audience (also some of the best laughs). But with plenty of witty lines and entertainment, strong performances and live music and some beautifully staged and directed moments, there is enough to cover any cracks in what was definitely a story with Milford and Pembrokeshire appeal.

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CAST: Bob Phillips (as Bobby Wilson aka Boy Palmer), Lloyd Grayshon (Ian Parrott), Viv Barrat (Auntie Eileen), Andrew Lewis (Stan Palmer), Jennifer Whitney (Mrs Briggs), Tania Shaw (Mandy Briggs, Lucy), Dorinda Sherwood (Emily Palmer, Lady MP, Sammi), Geraint Sayers (Tommy Bent), Tamsin Mathias (Heather Smith, Justine Ford), Sarah Hanley (Maggie Martin), Keith Jenkins (John Beaumont, Jimmy Evans, ‘Slops’ Simon), Hannah Mayne (Jenny Phillips), Sheila Noott (Nurse Sally), Naomi Harrison (Nurse Carole, Beverly), Tammy Stevens (Karen), David Rowland (Huw Morgan, BBC presenter), Sally Hicks (Bronwen Morgan), Charlotte East (Alice Evans), Dave Barrat (Klaus), Eddie Davies (‘Wino’ Freddie), Janine Grayshon (Selena Mowbury).

Band: Jerome Davies, Joel Rees and Craig Absalom.

On film: Roger Arnold (Firpo Phillips). Music videos: Nigel Orchard (Victor Vomit), Mary-Jayne (Lisa Macaroni).

Themselves: Jim Hughes, of Radio Pembrokeshire, Ben Stone, of Radio Pembrokeshire, Nichole Sarra, of the Western Telegraph, and Jeff Dunn, Milford Mercury columnist.