“We want all the spirit of Lancashire, but not the accent”
One of the most anticipated bits of TV this Christmas was surely Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her musical That Day We Sang, featuring a Sweeney Todd reunion with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball taking on the lead roles of Enid and Tubby. The show is a wonderfully heart-warming tale of extraordinariness coming out of the ordinary as Wood does so well, following two lonely middle aged Mancunians who dare to dream of love when life offers them a second chance.
They’re initially brought together at a special event in 1969 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Manchester Children’s Choir recording Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (a real life event). Having lost touch and been ground down by the drudgery of life, each puts a long awaited sparkle in the other’s eye though as ever, the path of true love ne’er did run smooth. And Wood contrasts this story with a 1929 narrative that follows the experiences of the choir as they build up to their momentous day.
I’ve actually seen the show twice before and so am quite familiar with the story but being a huge Victoria Wood fan, I could watch it all day long, especially listening to the huge wit of her lyrics as brilliantly evidenced in the homage to Berni Inn and the Enid song to name just two examples. And the TV adaptation loses little of that perfect charm, tempered with working-class reality which keeps the show rooted in a blunt honesty, even during the most outlandish of the fantasy episodes in which the songs take place.
And the rest of the writing ain’t half bad either, full of jokes about Cilla Black’s hair surprising people who’d only ever seen it in black and white, the merits of new-fangled snacks like yoghurts and crispbread, the worries about decimalisation and Granada television. Typically Woodsian in many respects but no less impressive in its reliability, relatability and utter respect for the integrity of its characters and their emotional world. It really is excellently done.
In some ways, I’ve been spoiled by seeing it in the theatre, particularly having seen Enid interpreted by both Jenna Russell and Anna Francolini, excellent actors both who really brought something special with their theatrical expression. It is nigh on heresy to suggest that Staunton is anything but perfect but she might have possibly have been just a little realistically downtrodden for my liking, I craved more sparkle. Similarly too, Ball’s Tubby suffered by comparison, in this case to Vincent Franklin who originated the role (and who has his own part here as the vile boss) but it is a great problem to have, to be differentiating levels of excellence.
Amongst the supporting cast, there’s a brilliant double act from Sophie Thompson and Conleth Hill as obnoxious one-uppers, Dorothy Atkinson rounding off a great year as the choirmistress and Daniel Rigby’s kindly war vet turned teacher is beautifully played, echoed with great pathos in a delicately emotional payoff later on. You’ve got over three weeks to catch it on t’iPlayer and I really recommend that you do.