Adapted for the stage by Danny Robins from the BBC Radio 4 series he and Lenny Henry co-created, Rudy’s Rare Records is a feel-good comment on social change, father/son relationships and the fight to keep the family business alive in a rapidly-modernising and instant consumerist society.
With any adaptation the danger that the delicate balance of the episodic slice is upset and lost in translation forms a concern; happily for RRR the fluid liberalism and the constant gag attack remain perfectly attuned.
The play’s premise is relatively simple; Lenny Henry is Adam, a sometime actor who has returned to help his ailing father (Rudy, played by Larrington Walker) with his health and his debt-ridden Handsworth record shop, and whose own son Richie (Jovian Wade) mysteriously returns home from University not long after the curtain rises. With the aid of shop assistant Tasha (Natasha Godfrey), neighbour Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon) and Rudy’s part time lover Doreen (Lorna Gayle) who strives for a modem of commitment from the aging, yet loveable and true, playboy, the cast make a strong and fluid company supported throughout by a live band who rehearse in the back of the shop.
In just over two hours amongst the racks, the play’s Caribbean cast explore the diversity of modern British society (“I remember the good old days when we were the ones who were persecuted”) and tackle the sad decline of the independent family business and the community in the wake of the rapid ascension of the face-less corporation and the online consumer boom. More than anything though, we’re witness to the partly autobiographical relationships between Adam and Rudy, and in turn Adam and Richie- three generations fighting to hold their own as much within the family as the society it is part of.
And it’s hugely successful in its endeavours – it’s gag-a-minute (“The last time you dusted, Elton John still liked girls”) feel good fun with an excellent live ska, bluebeat and reggae soundtrack to boot. Some of the play’s finest moments are musical – Doreen’s You Don’t Love Me bite of the thumb towards Rudy and Adam’s Israelites atop the shop’s roof. In the last decade, 60% of independent record shops have been forced to close down thus sadly removing culture-crossing community hubs throughout the land. One of the most special aspects of this play is the extent to which the theatre, the traditional reserve of the white middle class, is a healthy blend of black and white united in enjoyment and agreement with its message.
Rudy’s Rare Records has now finished its run at The Rep, Birmingham and heads on to Hackney Empire.