Book: Peter Rowe in association with Gary Lloyd
Music &Lyrics: Marc Bolan
Director: Gary Lloyd
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
This is an opportunity to bask in the glitz of the fashions and sounds of the 70s glam rock era. 20th Century Boy follows the career of that decade’s icon Marc Bolan through the eyes of his son, Rolan. Rolan never knew his father, Bolan died tragically young just before his 30th birthday in a car crash when his son was barely two years old.
This story follows Bolan’s early career and changes in musical direction. Starting with his time in skiffle groups at the age of nine, through a short period when he played guitar in a band with Helen Shapiro. Bolan then develops musically, moving from an acoustic psychedelic folk rock style to finally allowing electrical influences to dominate and settling on the fully charged acoustic sound we are most familiar with.
But this is not just a musical about Bolan’s musical development. As Rolan uncovers his father’s history we learn more about the man and his relationships. Here, Bolan is portrayed as a man utterly committed to musical success. “I want to be bigger than Elvis,” he is quoted as saying and, in order to do it, we see him ruthlessly casting aside people who stopped or held back his progress – band members, producers, his wife and even his musical style.
But the audiences clearly come to hear the great classic T.Rex numbers and see them staged in this tribute performance. Here the show seems to let itself down. The numbers are all performed well enough but there seems to be more excitement in the audience than on stage. The performances lack the throbbing highly charged seductiveness of the originals. Bolan, in particular, has none of the feline sexuality and unique charisma that ensured his enduring legend. Donna Hines as Gloria Jones, the mother of Rolan, is powerful and dominates the stage when present. Lucy Sinclair as June Child, the wife, also delivers a powerful performance. Given the era we have to mention the costumes. Thanks to Diego Pitarch, the costume designer, there is glitter, leopard print and platforms everywhere.
But back to the songs. They are all there. ‘Get It On’, ‘Ride a White Swan’, ‘Telegram Sam’, ‘I Love to Boogie’ and more. At the show’s conclusion we are treated to a second run through of many favourites. At this point the cast seem to receive an injection of energy. Suddenly the volume seems to get turned up and, in contrast to earlier renditions, the energy of the musicians and dancers follows. Finally the enhanced throb of the music and the energetic choreography deliver something closer to the electrifying and sexual original Marc Bolan and T.Rex. The performance finally comes alive and the audience are on their feet and enjoying themselves.
Runs until Saturday 12th July 2014 | Photo by Robert Day