“It’s us again”
Emily Bestow’s technicolor set design for Pete ‘n’ Keely is one of those which fully exploits the transformative possibilities of the Tristan Bates’ black box, converting the space into a convincing evocation of a swingin’ Sixties television studio. That studio is currently home to pop duo Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens who soared up the charts with their winning charm and captured the hearts of a nation when they got married. Five years down the line though, fame has cooled, they’re divorced and the first time they’ve met up since, they’re filming a live reunion special on TV.
Thus we get a variety show format that allows the pair to fill us in anecdotally on their shared past through the medium of popular song, at least when their barely concealed present animosity doesn’t interfere. For there’s a multitude of unresolved issues that need to be dealt with if they’re to make it to the end of the programme, never mind consider the future beyond it. Appropriately enough for the era, Pete ‘n’ Keely is a rather gentle show and Matthew Gould’s production here possesses a warmly nostalgic glow that is well essayed by performers David Bardsley and Katie Kerr.
Their’s is an affectionate, if antagonistic connection (I was reminded at times of This Morning’s Fern and Phil) but James Hindman’s book struggles to provide much depth to their characters due to the relentless pace of the real-time format. Instead, the heavy lifting is done by the score which blends standards (‘Fever’, ‘Secret Love’, ‘Black Coffee’) with new songs by lyricist and composer Patrick Brady and co-lyricist Mark Waldrop to remarkable effect – under James Cleeve’s taut but expressive musical direction, you’re actually hard-pressed to tell the new songs from the classics (the wordplay of ‘The Cross Country Tour is a real stand out).
And through the songs, Kerr is able to inject real personality into her increasingly vulnerable Keely – a little too fond of a tipple as her disappointment at how life has turned out manifests itself in bottles and bitterness. And Bardsley manages well to flesh out the underwritten Pete, whose simpler dreams of becoming a father and maybe a baseball player perhaps don’t register quite as strongly. But there’s fun to be had with audience participation, some outrageous product placement, and the genial, light-hearted entertainment that comes with Pete ‘n’ Keely.