Review: Rhinestone Mondays by Joe Graham at Colchester Mercury until September 10.

This is one of those shows that ushers you out into the night with a smile on your face and, chances are, a song in your heart. In the programme notes, Joe Graham says he just set out to write a feel-good story and that’s precisely what he’s done.

It’s a simple, straightforward musical with no pretentions, an on-off-on love story set to some of the best country songs ever penned and a real fun night out with plenty of gags, some very good singing and an unusual bit of audience participation.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the quality of the voices because the cast includes two members of the former top pop group Steps, Faye Tozer and Ian Watkins, and Lyn Paul from the award-winning New Seekers. But this also a good all-round acting cast who look nicely at home with what they are doing.

Most of the humour is driven by EastEnders escapee, Shaun Williamson, playing Brian, manager and barman of the down-at-heel Warbleswick Sports and Social Club, as he attempts to re-ignite a bit of passion in his divorce-shattered friend Tom (Anthony Topham).

Brian’s having a tough time of it competing with the trendy Munching Mule down the road which serves food as well as drinks and he’s let the hall on Monday nights to Annie (Tozer) for her line-dance classes in a bid to boost the bar takings. But their one round of the evening usually consists of a beer, a couple of shandies and an orange juice or two.

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When his karaoke-singing mate Tom is attracted to Annie, Brian sets about trying to get them together and is required to go to ridiculous, hilarious lengths to do so, while around them the other members of the group bitch and quarrel in their cowboy boots and stetsons.

Ronald (Phil Pritchard) insists on being called Clint on Mondays and says he drives a rig – actually a small Tesco delivery van; Sophie (Paul) is elegantly adept at stirring trouble; Carol (Ally Holmes) has two left feet and can’t get the steps right; Duncan (Watkins) might defect to tap-dancing classes and the game biddy Mary (Pauline Fleming) has trouble deciding which set of false teeth to wear for any given occasion.

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There’s actually not a lot of dance because each time they line up, one of them slips easily into a spot-lit story-lifting song made famous by stars like Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Co while the rest of the cast freezes or drifts into a backing group.

Ring of Fire (Paul), Thank God I’m a Country Boy (Watkins), A Thing Called Love (Tozer) and When You’re Hot, You’re Hot (Williamson) are stand-out numbers in two dozen favourites, including Achy Breaky Heart in which a willing audience, after a brief lesson, is required to take part at the end.

This world premiere show, a joint Mercury production with Ian Liston, Richard Ireson and The Booking Office, may not reach the West End but it will certainly find a lot of happy support on its tour of the UK.

David Henshall

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