The Drifters Girl
Book by Ed Harris
Based on an idea by Tina Treadwell
Directed by Jonathan Church
31st October – 4th November
The Drifters Girl presents the story of Faye Treadwell, the legendary manager of The Drifters, who tonight is played by Loren Anderson. A trailblazer in the music industry, Treadwell devoted her life to the American vocal group, refusing to give up on them, despite scores of line-up changes, and legal challenges along the way.
We follow the sexism and racism that Treadwell faced, the personal and professional sacrifices she was forced to make and the attempts to airbrush her out of the Drifters’ considerable musical legacy.
The cast is multi-role which very cleverly mirrors the band itself. The Drifters had five decades of top ten hits both in the U.K. and America, but the band members were constantly changing, perhaps leaving Treadwell as the one constant, reflecting what happens here tonight.
The actors playing the band are outstanding. Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong, and Ethan Davis are all wonderful singers in their own right, and when they come together as ‘The Drifters’ they absolutely soar. The blend and the harmonies are exquisite. Add in evocative choreography by Karen Bruce and in my opinion, they become the beating heart of this production.
This may seem paradoxical, given the show’s title, but I suspect most of the audience has come to hear The Drifters’ back catalogue and the way in which tonight’s band members deliver is superlative. When Ashford Campbell as Ben E. King sings ‘Stand by Me’, it brings an entirely unexpected tear to my eye. His portrayal of the tragic Rudy Lewis is similarly moving. I would have loved to have known more about Rudy and the difficulties he faced due to his sexuality and addiction problems.
This brings me to the central issue that I have with the narrative. As it covers several decades, we rush through salient details meaning the timeline can become unclear. Certain events seem glossed over and the ending of the plot is anti-climactic. The audience seems unsure of what to do at this point, given the sterling performances that have gone before. It is only when the cast return to perform a medley of hits that the place erupts, and everyone is on their feet singing and dancing along.
Notwithstanding, The Drifters Girl is a visual treat. The enormous Curve stage is put to good use with Set Design by Anthony Ward. Moving screens filled with geometric shapes replicate recording studios and offices, whilst Video Design by Andrzej Goulding adds interest in surprising and pleasing ways – a silhouetted Sammy Davis Jr. springs to mind as he shimmies his way across a set of opening titles. There can be beauty in simplicity too, as Lighting Design by Ben Cracknell, shines a single spotlight on a solo performer.
‘You were born to be in the music business,’ George Treadwell tells Faye. She certainly dresses the part, as do the band. I adore the costumes by Fay Fullerton. We begin in the 1950s with pillbox hats, pearls, pale pink brocade, and co-ordinating leather gloves for ‘The Drifters’ Girl’ herself. The boys are looking whip-smart in their royal blue three-piece tailored suits and fedoras. As we move to the 1970s, the clothes become looser, less rigid and we see the large lapels, ruffled shirts, and shades of brown and beige synonymous with that decade. The costumes accurately reflect each given era rooting the audience in time and place.
Ultimately, this is a crowd-pleasing jukebox musical which shows the difficulties faced by women in the music industry. Sadly, it is an issue we are still talking about today as Taylor Swift fights to reclaim the rights to her earliest songs and Britney Spears documents in her autobiography her attempts to gain back control and be released from the grip of her father’s conservatorship.
Faye Treadwell was a fighter, a woman who refused to relinquish her vision and abandon the band that she loved. A role model whose story deserves to be told, but perhaps with a few more tweaks to the script.
Age Guidance 10+
Running Time: 2 hours 25 mins (including a 20-minute interval)