Pictured Dennis Skinner
Image Source - Derby Theatre


There is a sensational mock-up of a miners' welfare club installed at Derby Theatre until February 5th to house the play called 'The Palace of Varieties'. Jen McGinley's set is a master construction the theatre's stage has been transformed beyond recognition. The walk to the entrance opens up to a fully functioning bar, seating, and bar games, and even has the resident DJ in the corner.

This Derby Theatre production is a focus on the life and times of the socialist MP, and ex-miner in fact, Dennis Skinner (played wonderfully by actor, Gareth Williams). The arrangement of the set doubles up to accommodate Skinner making his presence known, in sharp-witted and sometimes belligerent ways, while seated (and moving through) the House of Commons during the decades of being the elected member of Parliament for Bolsover, Derbyshire.

Playwright, Kevin Fegan, has struck the right note on the play’s theme of that ole British obsession with class, and the testy spirit of his central, real life character. The director and teams have taken up the mantle and run with the idea of juxtaposing the entertainment culture of a club for the workers, with the pure theatre within 'The House' which can often occur between opposing political parties. Skinner would react to the debating, prompting and cajoling his counterparts, often revelling in the reactions he could provoke, whether positive or negative, which earned him recognition as 'The Beast of Bolsover'. While on the other hand, it is not surprising that Skinner "is a man with a passion for Nature and a soul who loves to sing''. He loves to sing the kind of songs from the clubs.

A private man. A sensitive man at times, who had suffered sadness around his first family, and been witness to mining community hardships and to shocking pit related accidents. 

Lisa Allen and Jack Brown play mutiple characters that give heart and humour to Skinner's biographical elements. They perform, along with Williams, a series of fast moving scenes and deliver cleverly contructed dialogue, with a-cappella interspersing. A fabulous show!


Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall who attended the press night performance of The Palace of Varieties at Derby Theatre 7.30pm on Tuesday 25 January



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