Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Tony Perrelli sits preparing for his Frank Sinatra tribute show when a man looking like Glenn Miller enters. Something is not quite right though, and a disturbing truth is about to be revealed. An interesting take on the disappearance of the iconic big band leader on a foggy night in December 1944.
Twinwoods Airfield, 15th December 1999. Tony Perrelli, a sixty something, long time, small town Frank Sinatra tribute artist, sits in what passes for a dressing room as he prepares to take the stage as the headline act. In fact, he’s the only act and we’re not sure if there are even any punters there to listen to him bring Frank to life.
Enter a stranger who looks remarkably like Major Glenn Miller, even producing Miller’s instrument of choice, the trombone. And he seems to know a lot more about Perrelli than Perrelli knows about him. But why? And how? Perrelli can never remember meeting him. However, with the aid of a little whisky, Perrelli loosens up and starts spilling details of his life history, his Italian father and his brother. Yet it takes him a long time to grasp why the stranger is here.
Tony Phillips’ play builds to an eerie and unexpected denouement with some fine acting from Phillips himself as Tony Perrelli and from Richard Mann (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Glenn Miller himself) as the stranger. Phillips is an imposing presence on the stage. Thick set, and with a rich tone to his delivery, his impressionable entrance as Frank Sinatra caught the eye as did his dramatic switch to his own persona as the hard working club act from Bermondsey. His talent for building and holding a character is evident, as is his ability to draw in an audience via the delivery of dialogue.
Richard Mann was an excellent foil to Phillips both physically and in terms of the quiet but assured manner of his character, the stranger. His probing questioning of Perrelli had an interesting combination of social interest and menace, creating doubt in the minds of the audience as to why the stranger was there and what his motives were, all essential hallmarks of a good thriller.
The set and effects created just the right ambience – suggesting a dressing room in a damp, dank Nissan hut, with faded pictures lining the wall and a solitary light bulb providing an erratic glow. Sound effects and background music to support the overall dreary, almost war time atmosphere, had also been well thought out.
However, I wasn’t quite sure about the mid-piece rendition of Chattanooga Choo Choo. Whilst it was a pleasant enough rendition from Phillips, it rather broke the flow of what was building into an interesting story. A pity, since it had already taken some time to establish that we were watching a piece about Glenn Miller’s disappearance with too much of the early dialogue given over to Perrelli’s alter-ego, Sinatra and his alleged shortcomings.
The audience may also have easily missed the significance of the date on which the show is set – 55 years to the day since Miller’s disappearance – and the show’s location at Twinwood, the airfield from which he set out, both these important pointers being rather glossed over. Perhaps that’s why when the denouement did arrive, it was such a surprise but that too was over in a flash where more could perhaps have been done to lead the audience towards it. Audiences do like working thrillers out for themselves as they unfold and to be able to compare notes on the way out of the theatre but I didn’t detect much of that going on as we left.
Those points aside, Tony Phillips has researched this piece well and built an interesting tale around a mystery that has never been conclusively resolved. All sorts of theories have been put forward, some credible, some crackpot but we’ll never know for certain what happened. But the Phillips’ theory, whilst openly fictional, has that nagging element of credibility that is sure to set one of those conspiracy theorists raking through their files again.