This father-and-son love story is unabashedly sentimental. Even the programme blurb makes tears well: Tim Firth writes about his father, Gordon, who died in 2018. Gordon was a watercolourist, headteacher and “scavenger of the council refuse tip” (while this was still a legal activity); he was also co-creator, with Tim, of the Bafta-winning television series Roger and the Rottentrolls. Gordon’s greatest talent was for discovering purpose in things (and people) discarded and disregarded. He is clearly the inspiration for Ray (Jeff Rawle), the central character in this new musical, written and composed by Firth, whose stage and big-screen hits include Calendar Girls, The Flint Street Nativity and Kinky Boots.
Ray is a builder, now retired and a widower. His only child, Neil (Chris Hannon), is a health and safety officer. Their joint grand design is the transformation of the abandoned local bank into a home – cue running-joke disagreement over hazard tape: necessary (Neil); no need for it if you use your eyes (Ray). Firth’s text is underpinned by metaphors.
Work on the site (a glorious set by Sara Perks) is interrupted by the people, young and old, Ray encourages to visit. Alice (Elizabeth Counsell), Ivy (Michele Dotrice) and Ted (Maxwell Hutcheon) are also retirees, each struggling in their own way with loneliness, exacerbated by modern reliance on technology. Katy (Alyce Liburd) is a primary school teacher, trying to protect her pupils from joy-stifling educational dictats. As the building is slowly repurposed, so also are the lives of its visitors.
This may be too sweet for some tastes, but I found it delightful. Firth’s jaunty Stéphane Grapelli/Hot Club-inspired score, arranged by George Francis and played by an eight-strong live orchestra, meshes perfectly with the impeccably pitched deliveries of the actors and director Joyce Branagh’s orchestration of the action – a joyous celebration of creativity and connectedness.
Now Is Good is at the Storyhouse, Chester, until 28 May