No prizes for guessing which one I watched.
As a Victoria Wood fan and proud Lancastrian, I was as happy as a pig in sherbet to watch this sweetly told delight. Adapted from Wood's own stageplay from the Manchester Festival, That Day We Sang is the story of the Manchester Children’s Choir and their recording, in 1929, of ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ alongside the Halle Orchestra. As a girl in the mid 70s, Wood saw a TV documentary film which reunited the former choir and was struck by how sad the now middle-aged Mancunians looked. For her, they represented ordinary people who had a brief moment to shine in the sun before settling back down to the everyday and missing the boat completely. Some forty or so years after the TV documentary, Wood used her playwright skills to tell a fictionalised story about the choir, focusing solely on two members; Tubby and Enid, played by West End musical legend Michael Ball and the great Imelda Staunton. Capitalising on that sense of mundanity and melancholia in Manchester she felt as a girl, Wood depicts the lives of two loners who feel they both haven’t lived up to the potential they had during the recording.
The real Manchester Children's Choir and the Halle Orchestra on the day of the recording of Nymphs and Shepherds, Manchester Free Trade Hall 1929
It's Ball and Staunton's show though and they're perfectly cast as two lonely middle aged people who life has passed by. Their chemistry together is very strong (perhaps as a result of previously working together on stage in Sweeney Todd) and they're both very complimentary of one another. Staunton, as the more accomplished dramatic actress could have dwarfed Ball for example, but she does not and the endearing quiet dignity beneath the genial facade he brings to the part of Tubby made me hope he consider more TV roles in future. It’s especially great to see Ball on the small screen and I felt that he brought a quiet dignity to the role of Tubby; a man who was outwardly charismatic but on the other hand was terribly lonely. The 1929 scenes also featured fine turns from Lyndsey Marshal as Jimmy’s mother and Daniel Rigby as teacher Mr Kirby who in WWI ''lost a leg to a sniper on Vimy Ridge'', whilst in 1969 Staunton was wonderfully accompanied by the lovely Jessica Gunning who is set for national treasure status one day you mark my words. It was good to see two of Pride's tremendous young talents on the small screen this festive period; Gunning here and Faye Marsay stealing the show in Doctor Who on Christmas Day. Not forgetting Staunton herself starred in that incredible film too.
Possibly the best festive offering this year, That Day We Sang was a real crowd pleaser - unless you've a heart of stone that is! - and as Staunton said, it's proof that stories happen to real people over the age of 25 too.