Dusty Won’t Play

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

Frances Thorburn as Dusty Springfield? Oh, bring it on, please. Wish granted! Cue the last of the ‘back by popular demand’ revivals in a season that has mixed old and new work in celebration of 15 busy years of a Play, Pie and Pint (PPP).

Dusty Won’t Play – premiered at Oran Mor in January 2017 – isn’t just a showcase of the singer’s greatest hits, although several of them are woven into Annie Caulfield’s sharply-focussed one-act. Set in 1964, the piece is a reminder of the apartheid laws that governed South Africa at the time, and even dictated contractual obligations for anyone wanting to tour there. Racially mixed concert audiences were not permitted – and the police had scary ways of enforcing that ruling, even if you were a Briton. And super-star famous. Dusty was having none of that, however. Along with the shoes, the frocks and the hairspray, she packed some very determined anti-apartheid principles and it’s this brush with a brutally segregated regime that is the factually-correct connective tissue between songs.

Ahhh – the songs... Thorburn totally side-steps impersonation to get under the skin – the bouffant blonde wig, the sooty eye make-up, the dramatic gestures – of Dusty on-stage, and off.

She lives the songs in the moment, and one moment is Capetown 1964 where – in front of an unsegregated audience - a lyric like “I close my eyes and count to ten/ And when I open them you're still here” carries an especial power and poignancy. No wonder the heavies in sunglasses and cheap suits arrived bearing terrifying threats. Kevin Lennon and Andy Clark are, between them, all the men the script, and its enabling director Marilyn Imrie, need. They’re Dusty’s backing band, those South African heavies, management dudes – all in the slick switch of an accent, the donning of a hat, the grab of a guitar. It’s quintessential PPP – small-scale, big in talent, mega-marvellous. You have until Saturday…!