All or Nothing: The MOD Musical – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Book: Carol Harrison

Music and Lyrics: The Small Faces

Director: Carol Harrison

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Another month, another tour of a jukebox musical that explores the back catalogue of a famous artist or band. In the case of All or Nothing, it is the turn of the Small Faces, following in the footsteps of the Kinks (Sunday Afternoon), the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys), Carole King (Beautiful), Tom Jones (Tom!), the Beatles (Let It Be) – and the list goes on.

With so many examples of the genre about, it is incumbent for the creators of a new production to provide ample reason why theirs is worth the ticket price. In the case of All or Nothing, it is the back catalogue of 1960s cockney charmers The Small Faces – and, er, that’s about it.

To be fair, that back catalogue includes some long-lasting hits, from Itchycoo Park to the titular All or Nothing, by way of Tin Soldier and that staple of the late 1960s, the concept album (in this band’s case, 1968’s Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake). And to her credit, writer Carol Harrison does at least try and inject some sense of drama by opening the story at the band’s last, self-destructive live performance. A freeze frame while lead singer Steve Marriott (Samuel Pope) is whirling his electric guitar around his head as a weapon prefaces an explanation of how the band got to that point.

Sadly, that is also the point where it all starts to go wrong. Chris Simmons narrates the tale as an older (indeed, post-death) Marriott, flitting around the stage with beer in hand like a combination of Hamlet’s ghost and Macbeth’s porter. Likeable as Simmons is, his narration is too often full of exposition that would have been better placed in the events of the cast of characters. Heaven knows, they need it.

Scene after scene is played as if each line is a comic masterpiece, resulting in a delivery style that is not dissimilar to performing a panto whose script had been scribbled on the back of an envelope during the interval of the dress rehearsal. Nowhere is this more apparent, or more grating, than in Carol Harrison’s portrayal of Marriott’s mother Kay. Harrison is also the writer of the lumpen book and this tour’s director (based on the original direction of Tony McHale) and it often does feel as she has bitten off more than she can chew.

The first act feels dreadfully light on songs – criminal for a musical, but a common trap for jukebox shows that introduce songs at chronologically appropriate points in a band’s development. Even when they appear, the Small Faces songs are performed as straight band performances, providing little impetus to the story.

Choreographer Cameron Hall is predominantly limited to coordinating the go-go dancers on the cheap-as-chips recreations of Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops, although there is one scene (of the nascent Faces adopting their initial Mod-inspired look) that hints that a better thought out musical, with music and dance more integrated into the story, lurks just out of reach.

A series of celebrity cameos pepper the show, as the Faces rub shoulders with the likes of Sonny and Cher, Dusty Springfield, PP Arnold, Tony Blackburn and Stanley Unwin. By and large these impressions are entertaining more for their chutzpah, performed with minimal similarity to a singer’s looks or sound – although Daniel Beales’ recreation of Unwin’s “Unwinese” gobbledygook is a joy in itself.

The plot of the show itself offers nothing unusual. Exploitation by a music industry executive? Check. Rapid stardom and easy access to cash leading to increased drug use? Check. Marriott’s romantic liaisons, with both Arnold and his eventual wife Jenny, who he first meets while she is going out with Rod Stewart, are briefly introduced but never fleshed out. A final showdown between Simmons’ spectral Marriott and Harrison’s similarly ghostly mother could have been interesting, but at the end of a show that plays as flatly as this one, there is no tension for the actors to play with.

Despite a book which seems intent to provide as much contrast as possible to the Faces’ lively, energetic songs, the performances of said numbers are the musical’s redeeming elements. The Small Faces may never have been as influential as The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but Marriott and bandmate Ronnie Lane were given to writing exceptional songs and, to its credit, All or Nothing does show off their skills.

But with jukebox musicals being so prevalent, one would hope that would be incentive for new ones to raise their game and keep it there. That is not the case here. While the recent tour of the Kinks musical offered us a Sunny Afternoon, with All or Nothing it’s less of a Lazy Sunday, more of a wet weekend.

Runs until 14 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Flat, but with lively songs

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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