THE first thought that comes to mind when you see the title The Drifters Girl, is “what girl?”
The Drifters, formed originally in the 1950s, were, and presumably still are, an all male American R&B soul vocal group – so who is the girl. She was the formidable Faye Treadwell, who with her husband George, took over the management of the Drifters in 1965, and after George’s death two years later turned the group into a world-wide recording and performing phenomenon, selling more than 200 million singles and 100 million albums. To do so they must have been a tight-knit unit who formed a lastingly united team, but the reality is far different. During the years since the Treadwell family took over the leadership of The Drifters, no fewer that 60 different members have appeared and recorded under the banner.
Despite this almost constant change of personal (at one time the whole group was changed with a single stroke) they have produced a distinctive sound and a string of legendary hits, including Hello, Happiness, If I Had Hammer, Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies, Save the Last Dance for Me, Saturday Night at the Movies, There Goes my Baby and Under the Boardwalk, which are amongst the 24 numbers stylishly presented in this show.
If you think politics is a dirty business, this look at the underbelly of the music industry suggested by Faye’s daughter Tina and scripted by Ed Curtis, will be a real eye-opener. The prejudices and dirty ticks that Faye encountered as a woman in a late 20th century, male-dominated industry, more than matched the colour prejudices she and her Drifters were to meet when out on tour.
Be warned you have to adjust quickly to heavy Deep South American accents. With only the slightest change of costume, Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and Daniel Haswell, change characters with the speed of a chameleon dodging a predator, as well as singing and presenting Drifters numbers in terrific style. Vocally and visually this quartet is exactly how you expect The Drifters to look and sound.
It is only when you pause for thought that you realise how few people there are in the cast. Thanks to skillful mixing of their vocals, Faye Treadwell’s highly emotional set pieces, and Dustin Conrad and his eight fellow musicians, those in the audience who had come principally to hear reproductions of their old favourites had a great night.
A less rewarding night for Jaydah Bell-Ricketts who had the thankless task of acting, without a big solo number to help, as stooge to Carly Mercedes Dyer’s Faye. In spite of these drawbacks she still came up with a very satisfying portrait of Faye’s daughter Tina, the lady who came up with the idea for this show, and who now holds the franchise to The Drifters’ name.
Making excellent use of Anthony Ward and Ben Cracknell’s set and lighting designs, which fit the style of the production perfectly, director Jonathan Church keeps the action interwoven by one hit number after another flowing as smooth as silk.
Knowing the director’s background as artistic director at Birmingham and Chichester, it would be fascinating to see what he would do if given a dramatic telling of this story, internal and court battles, and a deeper look at the many varied personal relationships which combined to create the distinct sound , despite ever changing personal of The Drifters.
Photograph by The Other Richard