Friday, 15 March 2013

Theatre Review: The Bobby Thompson Story at the Theatre Royal

Faithful Portrayal of a Northern Comedy Legend by Pete Peverley 25 Years After Bobby's Death.

 
 
Bobby Thompson had a colourful life. Born into a mining family in Fatfield, he lost his mum and dad when he was 8 and was brought up by his sister, He went down the pit at age 15 and supplemented his earnings by playing harmonica, playing domino tournaments and soon discovered his talent for stand-up.
 
With  a rise in popularity, then a decline as he failed to manage his own bookings and his fondness for drink threatened his career, Bobby wasn't the best at keeping himself in gainful employment. But  new manager and a new outlook gave him a comedy career revival in the 70's but again, drink and health problems hampered any sustained success. With 3 marriages under his belt Bobby had a growing source of material for "her indoors" and "mother in-law" jokes. He was famously bad at looking after his financial affairs with his onstage persona expressing a "pay nowt" attitude and famously saying "You believe Bobby Thompson. If yu pays what yu owe yu'll never have nowt." His Northeast pit accent was one you rarely find these days, with local accents being gradually diluted by neighbouring county accents. Bobby passed away in 1988 after breathing problems, at the age of 77, with a massive crowd turning up for his funeral.
 
Despite his ups and downs, Bobby was a well-loved character is still remembered fondly by people north of Middlesbrough and over the age of 40. He had some radio and TV work, but the TV programme uncovered the inability of some comedy material to travel. He parodied northeast working class life of a very specific era. He is part of our local history and should never be forgotten.
 
Pete Peverley is a long established actor in the northeast. I remembered his face and realised several years ago I had seen him in "A Clockwork Orange" at what was the Playhouse, now Northern Stage.
 
Pete began playing the role of Bobby way back in 1988, 6 months after Bobby's death. The theatre group (in Washington) he was involved in wanted to create a production based upon the Working Men's Club scene in Sunderland. This had to involve Bobby as he was such a famous part of the local entertainment. Pete was only 19 when he played 76 year old Bobby, he had to get the character bang-on or there would be complaints of a lack of respect for the great man's memory. The production was a success and with further funding a new company was formed, and the musical "The Little Waster" was born. Pete had a lot of contact with Bobby's family and associates such as his manager in the 70's, Brian Shelley and got a great deal of help getting the story right. In developing his Bobby character, Pete was in demand to play Bobby on stage for various situations, for visiting politicians, at Roker Park for the Black Cats' crowd, and at St James.
 
"The Bobby Thompson Story" was played as a one man show. With Pete not only playing Bobby, but the narrator and at one point a hilariously familiar portrayal of social club entertainment, that would have been on the same bill as Bobby.The set was simply a small stage upon the Theatre Royal stage and a selection of Bobby's stage outfits, Pete simply filled the production. Nothing else was needed. His mimicry of Bobby's accent and onstage style was so good, there were geordies around me having trouble understanding. Some of those words died decades ago! The years that Pete has been playing Bobby, including making a TV documentary about the man's life, show in his faithful (uncannily some say) mirroring of the character of the man.
 
I enjoyed this show, and it taught me about Bobby's life and a bit about social change in the Northeast. Pete did a fabulous job of keeping the whole thing flowing, flitting from Bobby to narrator to the other people in Bobby's life, with apparent ease and a comic flair.
 
If you get a chance to catch this show, get yersel doon there!
 

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