Saturday, 11 October 2014

Calling all Rudies - Three Minute Heroes at Covenrty Belgrade

There could be no more fitting venue than Coventry's Belgrade Theatre for this feast of ska based theatre and music.  

Three Minute Heroes is a superb celebration of the 2 Tone phenomenon which burst out of Coventry in 1979.

A musical written by Bob Eaton, Three Minute Heroes tells the fictional story of a group of disaffected young people from Coventry who set out to follow in the footsteps of their local idols, The Selecter and The Specials by forming their own ska band.

The set for the play, which incorporates stark urban scenery against a photographic back-drop of powerful black and white images from early 80s Coventry, establishes an evocative atmosphere of the proverbial concrete jungle.

The music is loud, authentic and accomplished. The band includes Aitch Bembridge, a founder member of The Selecter, along with Dan McIntyre, Joey Hickman and Michael Searl with additional instruments played by members of the cast. So this is certainly not a karaoke imitation for theatre and if you had paid to see them in a Foleshill pub in 1979, you'd have been seriously impressed.

The story is very engaging, with universal relevance to teenagers of all ages from 16 to 86. There are five principle characters: Tim played by Joseph Eaton-Kent, Sonya played by Elizah Jackson, Zack played by Sheldon Green, Sharon played by Sarah Workman and Sean played by Conor John Nolan.

The narrative focuses on relationships, viewpoints and egos during the band's very rapid ascent and demise, hence they are literally 'three minute heroes', the whole thing brought to life with references to important Coventry landmarks and events and the wider political backdrop of early 80s Thatcherite Britain.

The most interesting character is without doubt Sean, a humorous though potentially tragic individual who watches romantic relationships blossom for his peers and fleeting success for their band, whilst searching enthusiastically for his own identity. A rebel with half a dozen causes throughout the play, Sean's mission of experimentation born from alienation may strike a chord for many of us who dabbled on various levels with the fast changing youth culture of the 76 to 82 era and the value systems offered by every new craze.

As someone whose life was changed instantly on the night that I first heard a natty-dread DJ named Rankin' Roger spinning Gangsters by The Specials between punk bands at Barbarella's night club in Birmingham back in 1979, this musical is much more than a bit of innocent nostalgia.

Seeing the play with my teenage sons on the eve of the EDL visiting Birmingham in October 2014, I am convinced that 2 Tone was something much more powerful and socially important than a passing retro-youth cult and its messages are just as relevant today as they were thirty years ago. It fills me with pride to have witnessed the movement at first hand and I feel that Bob Eaton's play captures this fascinating piece of local history with great integrity whilst being thoroughly entertaining.

I will even confess to feeling a tad emotional when at the end of the play the humble suggestion was made to the audience that perhaps "2 Tone did change things a little bit"? 

At which moment the full band, cast and very quickly the whole audience launched with glorious, lump-in-the throat, hairs-down-the back-of-the-neck gusto into the Dammers classic, Free Nelson Mandela.

Point well made I felt.

Three Minute Heroes is on at Belgrade Theatre Coventry until 25 October 2014.

Box office 024 7655 3055      

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