Bringing a forgotten hero out from the shadows is always an admirable undertaking. In this week’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint, the current Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse, Giles Croft, brings his research of a 19th century relative of his, Jabez Wolffe, to the stage.
Jabez Wolffe was born in Glasgow to a family of Jewish immigrants. A small but powerful man who favoured nude swimming and loved the bagpipes, he became the Tounheid swimming baths champion and went on to attempt swimming the Channel no less than 22 times but was defeated every time by weather or tides. Did Jabez give up? Like hell he did! When they were giving out determination, obsession, self -belief and ambition this sturdy wee Glasgow man, known for slathering fat on the outside rather than the inside of his body, have been at the front of the queue because if his descendent is to be believed, his middle names should have been ‘never say die’.
Opening with the disclaimer that ‘no Scottish accents will be harmed in the performance of this play’ (indeed they were not!), Croft delivers his research. He meanders beyond Jabez’ life to his own more recent history and to other more successful swimmers, with the aid of a slide show that includes some impressive movie shots of a few female swimmers of the time that Jabez seems to have influenced. In fact, that may be his legacy: influencing and inspiring women swimmers, without which we may never have known Victoria Wood’s unforgettable tragi comic sketch Swim the Channel.
Dressed in bow tie and shapeless beige woollen top, and unfortunately straying from mic a bit too often, Croft serves up the long series of facts with a Pestonesque delivery peppered with some innocent humour and a few props. The tune that’s maybe best known in Glasgow as Auntie Mary had a Canary rather than Cock o’ the North, may have been a favourite of Jabez as it features a fair amount in such a short play, including a blues guitar version.
Croft performs a sincere and loving tribute to a man of remarkable tenacity but despite his warmth, Channelling Jabez is no more than a mildly entertaining lecture thinly disguised as a play that could have splashed out a bit more.
Tuesday11 – Saturday 15 Apr, 1pm; Fri 14 Apr, 7pmage recommend 14+