REVIEW: Ned Corvan’s Music Hall, Durham Gala Theatre

A scene from Ned Corvan's Music Hall
A scene from Ned Corvan's Music Hall

If you thought a play about a Victorian music hall act would be boring, think again!

This tribute to forgotten North East singer/songwriter Edward Corvan draws you in from the first second when we hear the dulcet tones of Keel Row, taking us through the exhilarating life of Ned and then stomping along to the last song Have You Seen Wor Jimmy?

The rollercoaster of a story line is provided by Ed Waugh, whose last historical play was the wonderful Hadaway Harry about forgotten rower Harry Clasper. This show is every bit as good as Harry, except Waugh uses the songs of Corvan to raise the collective pulse of the audience.

And what songs! Corvan was a wordsmith without compare in the region at the time. He sings songs that are anti-establishment but they tend to have a very clever comic or ironic twist.

It’s no surprise he was playing to captivated audiences of 3,000 and 4,000 people.

An accomplished violinist, a comedian and with songs that still stand up today, 150-plus years later, Corvan must have been a spectacle to behold on stage.

Ned is portrayed by three actors throughout, Chris Connel (Older Ned), Jamie Brown (Young Ned) and Rachael McShane (Violin). It’s an intriguing concept as they play their principal roles but also a number of the minor parts that keep this show flowing from start to finish.

All three are superb as they portray Ned’s life from his formative years with the great ‘clown of the North’ Billy Purvis until he becomes a solo superstar and then the decline, rise and tragic decline of Ned’s career and health.

There are touching, moving scenes and songs of merriment but every song means something to the storyline. Director Gareth Tudor Price has to take a lot of credit for this excellent show. It was spellbinding.

Ned Corvan may not have been well known before but hopefully this will finally allow him to reclaim his rightful place in North East history and culture.

•Ned Corvan’s Music Hall is at Sunderland Minster on Friday, June 2 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost £15 from (0191) 2427788.

•It will be performed at Hartlepool Town Hall on Tuesday, June 6 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £15 from (01429) 523409.