Labelled with Love: Inspired by the LP Squeeze: East Side Story
18 February 1983
Lyrics and music by CHRIS DIFFORD and GLENN TILBROOK, script by JOHN TURNER
Presented by The Combination
Directed by John Turner
Sunday Telegraph - Trevor Dann
Supporters of Difford's clever observations of everyday life and Tilbrook's disarmingly catchy melodies have long hoped for something more substantial from the pair than a selection of unconnected songs on a band album.
And now John Turner has woven the songs from the most successful - and the most cohesive - Squeeze LP, East Side Story, into a musical production called Labelled with Love, which opened last week at the delightful Albany Empire in Deptford, South London.
The script was written and the company assembled before the two songwriters became involved, but since discovering Turner's plans, they have thrown themselves whole-heartedly into the project, adding a couple of new songs, helping with the arrangements and the stage sound, and promoting the event.
This kind of production is an artistic minefield. Grafting a plot onto existing lyrics can lead to some grotesque story lines of the "Eleanor Rigby meets Bungalow Bill and takes a Ticket to Ride on a Yellow Submarine" type.
And Labelled with Love does have some creaky moments, especially in the first half where the dialogue is at its most contrived. The setting, for example, is a pub called the Nail in the Heart after Squeeze's "Another Nail In My Heart." We are told that it used to be called the Queen of Hearts until lightning destroyed half the sign and left the remainder hanging on one nail.
Similarly the former GI bride looking to recapture the drama of her wartime seduction is asked to drop an unrelenting series of clues - whisky, Texas, country music - to prepare us for the show's title song.
But the enthusiasm of the company, of whom Colen Marsh as Eric the Landlord and Alison Limerick as the disillusioned cabaret singer Monica deserve special mention, just about holds the piece together.
Personally I missed Glenn Tilbrook's own distinctive vocal performances of the songs, but it was interesting to hear them in the context of a stage musical where Chris Difford's gift for narrative lyrics was fully exposed.
Neither of the songwriters wants to take Labelled with Love any further. They have their own purpose-built musical in preparation and plans for a new band. But the Deptford show, which runs for another six weeks, bodes well for the future.
Tim Rice, who knows a thing or two about musicals, was in the audience
the night I went, checking out the competition. He will not be the
only writer looking over his shoulder at a theatrical career blossoming
in this unlikely corner of London's dockland.
City Limits - Dave Hill
Guardian - Mick Brown
Squeeze's song are not simply strong pop melodies, but highly literate and picturesque, graphic in their portrayal of individuals and situations, sharpened with an uncommon verbal wit and clarity. But they are, at the same time, very self contained.
Labelled with Love - which is built principally around the songs from the album, East Side Story - wisely does not try to use the songs as narrative in the manner of an Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar, but sets the action with a band playing in a South London pub, where the music can quite naturally stand in its own right when not being used as a theatrical device.
In this respect, Labelled with Love is very much rock and roll performed in a theatre context, rather than theatre half-heartedly borrowing the idioms of rock.
The storyline also places the piece firmly in a parochial context with our struggling rock band providing the last chance for live entertainment to save the Nail in the Heart, which is being threatened by the brewery with transformation into a neon-lit, disco cocktail bar.
"It's happening everywhere, Bermondsey has fallen, Peckham's on the way, and Lewisham is sure to follow," laments the pub's teddy boy landlord to a sigh of exasperated recognition from the Albany audience. This, thank heavens, is not destined to be the stuff of the West End charabanc crowd.
The script by John Turner (who also directs) crackles with humour, gusto and no little insight into South London manners and the vagaries of rock music ambition and success.
But there is a basic flaw in the structure with the introduction of a sub-plot about a high-powered American businesswoman who strays into the Nail in search of her long-lost mother - a situation of such tortuous complexity that the piece is all but derailed.
Thankfully, Labelled with Love is ultimately retrieved by its imaginative staging, athletic choreography, those clever Squeeze songs, and some notable performances from the cast of six. Colen Marsh is particularly good as landlord Eric, with his repertoire of camp mannerisms and pretensions.
It may not be Gilbert and Sullivan - to whom Squeeze were once compared
by one American critic - but it is funny, warmhearted, and highly enjoyable
- the closest thing yet seen to a "rock musical" in the purest sense of
Observer - Dave Gelly
This is the Albany Empire, a cosy little auditorium. With its bars and tables and predominantly local clientele, it is one of the best places in the country to enjoy popular music.
It is impossible to separate appreciation of the venue from appreciation of what takes place in it, so I was biased in favour of the Albany's new musical, Labelled with Love, before the lights went down. But it was so much fun that I think I'd have liked it anywhere.
Based on songs from the Squeeze album East Side Story, the play is a kind of local opera set in a Deptford pub. The plot unfolds in the manner of a barroom conversation, with many non-sequiturs and abrupt changes of subject. The featured singers, who call themselves the Long Honeymoon, spend all their time quarrelling; an ex-GI bride waxes maudlin about her wartime heyday; the barman frets about the brewers' intention to turn the place into a disco.
The rambling tale depends on strong characters to hold it together,
and the cast of six manage it beautifully. They include a black punk
called Tarquin (Eamon Walker), a teddy-boy landlord (Colen Marsh) and Monica
the singer (the impressive Alison Limerick), bursting with frustration,
resentment and injured pride. The songs and dance-numbers fit into
all this in a pretty rough-and-ready way, more like "turns" than dramatic
high spots, but sheer energy keeps the thing going nicely.
Time Out - John Gill