Tag Archives: James Darch

Glory Ride

Glory Ride

The Other Palace

GLORY RIDE at the The Other Palace

Glory Ride

“The mix of humour and humanity in the story is a brave choice. The comedy is occasionally misplaced, but the morality never misses a beat”


With Remembrance Sunday still very much on people’s minds, it seems fitting to attend a new musical based on one of the unsung heroes of WWII. Gino Bartali was a renowned Italian cyclist who quietly saved hundreds of lives, working to help Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during the time of the Italian Social Republic. His fame gave him exception from curfews and regional lockdowns, which he used to carry documents and messages to the Italian Resistance. He later led Jewish refugees to safety in a secret wagon, telling patrols that pulling the wagon attached to his bicycle was all part of his training. Very few people are aware of his contribution and Bartali died with his secret in 2000. “The good is done” he used to say, “Certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket”.

It is a remarkable story that deserves to be told, and until now it has only been revealed in piecemeal, or as a cameo in wider reaching documentaries. A 2007 Hollywood film, ‘Lion Man of Tuscany’, was shelved and is as yet unproduced. The question is, though, is it a story that needs to be told in music? With “Cabaret” and “From Here to Eternity” down the road and an imminent West End transfer of “Operation mincemeat” there is the danger of a resistance (dreadful pun intended) to another musical tackling similar themes. The writers Victoria and Todd Buchholz weaken our scepticism, however, with a succinct, clear narrative reinforced by a score that showcases the message without sacrificing the emotional integrity of the characters and the libretto. Although weakened, the question still remains.

“Glory Ride” is a work in progress, billed as a staged concert. In the main house of The Other Palace, it has the feel of a select rehearsed reading, albeit one with a generous guest list. Read and sung on the book, one has to approach it with a different frame of mind, and consequently it is inappropriate to tag any review with a star rating at this stage. With scripts and iPads in hand, the performers are kind of let off the hook, except to say that there is a very fine ensemble of voices on offer.

James Darch as Bartali has the most gear changes as he journeys from wide eyed, adolescent optimist to reluctant hero. Bartali emerges with integrity intact unlike childhood friend turned Italian Fascist soldier (Neil McDermott) Mario Carita. At the peak of his success Bartali withdraws from professional cycling when his younger brother is killed in a riding accident. He could never quite find the anonymity he craved. So, with the rise of fascism, he used his fame to his advantage: for a long time, the Fascist police and the German troops risked causing public discontent if they arrested him. While Major Mario Carita was compiling a list of eight hundred Jewish children to be deported (or worse), Gino Bartali joins forces with Cardinal Dalla Costa (an impressive Ricardo Afonso) and Jewish accountant Giorgio Nico (Matt Blaker, in fine form dishing out comic relief) to save them. Bartali is always one step ahead of Carita in this cat and mouse race.

The mix of humour and humanity in the story is a brave choice. The comedy is occasionally misplaced, but the morality never misses a beat. It is a timely retelling of the journey, but like the hero of the piece who scaled the Alps and the Pyrenees, the creators of the musical might be in for a similar uphill ride. The approach is overcrowded. This is a trial run, and the writing duo can afford to give themselves a slap on the back for now. Without getting complacent. Although not instantly memorable, the musical numbers – very much guided by the script – are wonderfully crafted and varied, with plenty of rousing ensemble moments. The protagonists are all given their solo moment in which to shine. Against the backdrop of a thrilling story, they should be on a winning streak. But to convince that this needs to be a musical is a hurdle that is becoming increasingly difficult to cross. The reception received from the crowd at The Other Palace should at least steer them in the right direction.



Reviewed on 14th November 2022

by Jonathan Evans


Previously reviewed at this venue:

Millennials | ★★★ | July 2022



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Maggie May

Finborough Theatre

Maggie May

Maggie May

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 29th March 2019



“it was a touch surreal at one point to see a burly bunch of dockworkers with jazz hands”


Not seen in London for over fifty years, Lionel Bart’s “Maggie May” runs the danger of feeling dated or hackneyed. A modern-day audience can be forgiven for reasoning why it hasn’t been staged for so long. Admittedly it is not one of Bart’s finest, and Liverpudlian Alun Owen’s book has lumpish limitations; but Matthew Iliffe’s revival papers over the cracks and compels us to shed our doubts.

Walking into the Finborough is like wandering onto the set of a 1960s Ken Loach film. We are very much taken back in time as Verity Johnson’s suitably monochrome set recreates the gritty realism of a bygone age. You can almost taste the salt air of the Mersey and feel the fabric of the working-class nobility worn bare. Against the backdrop of dockside gantries and Scouse defiance is the tale of the doomed love affair between the eponymous prostitute, Maggie May, and Pat Casey, the son of a union martyr. Yet much of the plot concentrates on Casey’s fight against his corrupt bosses to prevent a shipment of arms to South Africa.

An odd choice for a musical, and indeed often the music is at odds with its subject matter. It boasts ‘one of the most musically diverse scores’; which is true, in a sense, of this motley crew of numbers if you substitute lack of focus for diversity. There are obvious Celtic roots, but we are taken on a whirlwind tour that takes in Mersey Beat, music hall, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, ballads, a bit of blues and even some ‘hot jazz’. I must say it was a touch surreal at one point to see a burly bunch of dockworkers with jazz hands. Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography is equally eclectic but works impressively well within the confines of the theatre’s space and there are some firecracker routines hemmed in just sizzling to explode onto a larger stage.

The thirteen strong cast almost move as one with a collective personality that braces any weaknesses in the libretto. And despite some patronising patois, the dockers and the whores avoid caricature. Kara Lily Hayworth commands the stage with her presence as the tough, no-nonsense but brittle Maggie May. A popular dockland prostitute, she calls all her clients ‘Casey’ after her childhood sweetheart. Pat Casey returns from a life at sea and their attempts to rebuild their lives together is a rocky road, particularly when Casey gets reluctantly drawn into the dockworkers conflict. James Darch wonderfully exposes the inner conflicts of the man; torn between love and principle, and unable to shake off the shadow of his past. While Lily Hayworth’s strong soprano has the lion’s share of the show’s stirring ballads, Darch contrasts with a memorable rendition of “I’m Me”: one of the musical highlights.

The ensemble numbers tread a more uneven path, veering from the shambolic, tuneless bar-room singalong of “Right of Way” to the richly textured, Kurt Weill inspired “Casey”. Despite Henry Brennan’s dynamic piano accompaniment, I did find myself craving a double base, or a touch of actor-musicianship. But that is just a subjective cavil, and could dilute the acting, which is consistently fine throughout; from Mark Pearce’s self-assured swagger of corrupt union boss, Willie Morgan through to the show-stealing charisma of Michael Nelson’s Judas figure, Judder Johnson.

But like the characters who are shouldering life the best way they can, it sometimes feels like the actors, too, are trying to make the best of what they are given. Yes, there are often reasons why a show isn’t staged for over half a century. However, if this is a charge that can be levelled at “Maggie May”, then this company makes a watertight counterclaim and gives us every reason to catch this revival at the Finborough.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ali Wright


Maggie May

Finborough Theatre until 20th April


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018
A Winning Hazard | ★★★★ | September 2018
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019


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