Rudy’s Rare Records

TIMG_3394-0.JPGhe atmosphere in the Hackney Empire while watching Rudy’s Rare Records was something I very rarely experience at the theatre. Whoops of laughter, clapping after comedic lines deliver their punch, audience members singing along under their breath and even a spot of heckling, it had the feel of watching a sitcom being filmed in front of a live studio audience, but was all the better for it.

Set in a dusty record shop in Birmingham, the play follows Rudy and his son Adam’s struggle to keep the Rudy’s Rare Records open in the face of the recession, the rise of the download and prowling developers. With a live band on stage (under the premise of a backroom rehearsal space) the show is filled with music. It softly plays in the background but then creeps into the forefront for notable scenes where the rhythm takes over the characters who break out into dance. This adds real soul to the show and gives gravitas to the central themes of the play, mainly being that music is to be enjoyed and listened to, not stored on an ipod for only your enjoyment.

Lenny Henry is effervescent in his central role of Adam, bringing elements of his stand up to the part, but all the while proving his development into a dramatic actor has been cemented. As the titled Rudy, Larrington Walker cuts a fine gib. Rattling around the set with a loose ease and relaxation, his comic timing rivals Henry’s and the two spar off each other fantastically. Completing the trio of generations is Joivan Wade as Adam’s son Richie, who struts across the stage with a confidence that masks a youthful fear. Together the three of them have brilliant chemistry and they have the audience in stitches. For me, the secret hit of the play has to be Lorena Gayle’s performance as Rudy’s lady love of the laundrette, Doreen. Full of sass and feminine wiles, Gayle is a curvaceous powerhouse with a proper set of pipes on her.

Danny Robins’ script is funny, there’s no doubt about it. It has clearly benefited from being developed on the radio as the characters walk on fully formed straight off the bat. If at times modern references feel a little laboured (including jokes about Halifax Howard, UKIP and iTunes) they are forgiven for the performances that they induce. With elements of a Mamma Mia style sing-a-long for Reggae music, Rudy’s Rare Records is full of heart and soul and one I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Reviewed by Roz Carter

Rudy’s Rare Records plays at the Hackney Empire until 5 October 2014.