A 5-star concert blended with average scriptwriting – but a must-see if you are a Drifters fan!
This month has been fabulous in terms of plays portraying strong females! There were “Fantastically Great Women“, and “Unfortunate” and now, I finally saw the titular “Drifters Girl “- a story of Faye Treadwell, the group’s manager.
“There’s only one New York Yankees, you can’t have another just because it features some ex-players” – Faye Treadwell
Our first encounter with Faye is when George Treadwell, the group’s manager, offers her a new career path. She’s strict about her own rules though: “I don’t answer no phone but my own,” is one of her most memorable lines from act 1, which starts both her romance and her career. Eventually, she became the sole manager after the death of her husband in 1967.
The 2.5-hour play follows her life as she comes up with an original idea with a band that’s a brand, loses the band members to army duty and suicide, and eventually has to face industry copycats alone in court. There’s a strong ’50s feel throughout the play, including fabulous wigs and costumes, but also dreaded racial issues that affect the band as they tour the UK.
A visual treat: jump into the ’50s with the “Drifters Girl”
The stage setup is full of surprises: it’s constructed to look like a recording studio (with the pattern of soundproof walls all over), but also has multiple moving elements (glowing poles) that divide the stage into smaller spaces when needed. The choreography is done to perfection – and it was particularly impressive that none of the actors got pushed by the poles on the stage – there’s quite some synchronisation needed to achieve that!
The show is accompanied by live performances of Drifters’ greatest hits: Save the Last Dance for Me, Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies, and Come on Over to My Place to Saturday Night at the Movies and Under the Boardwalk. And the music is the true star of the show: the cast is vocally truly the best of the best, and their voices match perfectly both acapella and when accompanied by a live band (sneakily hidden in the back of the stage). All that, with the cherry on top: the Queen of British Soul herself, Beverley Knight, playing the role of Faye Treadwell and being the true highflyer of the performance. And let me be clear: on the music front, this show is 5/5! I would watch “Drifters Girl” as a concert anytime, and it would already be fully worthy of the ticket price on its own.
Perfect concert, lacking story
Where I think the show is lacking, is the storytelling. I wanted to watch a story of a strong black woman who, in difficult times, handles a huge business idea, fights the “bad guys” and does it all by herself. Could be that my expectations were too high, but Faye Treadwell’s achievements are just not highlighted enough in the show. Whenever she has to face any issues, she’s following her husband (even after he’s dead, she sees his “ghost”) and doesn’t seem as much of a leader as I was hoping she would be.
I was not fully aware of her story and achievements (I’m a bit too young to be an original Drifters fan), so I watched the show a bit underwhelmed. When I read the programme, after the show, that’s when I truly appreciated what Faye truly did for herself, women in the music industry, and band management as a whole. She set precedents and helped to crystalise the concept of intellectual property. Would I know this had I not purchased the programme? I don’t think so. I feel like, especially for the younger audience, such points should be made more clear during the play.
Would I play the cast recording songs on repeat? You bet. Would I watch the show again? I don’t think so. If you are looking for a story about a strong female in the music industry, go for “Tina” – it delivers the empowerment part spot on. But if you’re looking for a jukebox musical and just want to have fun and singalong, “Drifters Girl” is the right choice.
Written by: Ed Curtis
Based on the idea by: Tina Treadwell
Directed by: Jonathan Church
Ticket price: £20+