American Idiot – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Music: Green Day

Lyrics: Billie Joe Armstrong

Director: Racky Plews

Reviewer: James Garrington

There is a saying that you should hit the audience right between the eyes when the curtain goes up, and American Idiot certainly follows that advice. Following a few quiet moments of video setting the scene, a cloth is pulled away and the audience greeted by a sensory barrage of sound, light and colour as the cast launch into a full-on version of the title song.

Set in a post 9/11 United States, American Idiot tells the story of three disaffected friends searching to discover who they really are, and trying to escape the confusion of truths and lies surrounding them in the media. One stays at home with his pregnant girlfriend, where he takes refuge in the bottle; a second joins the armyand is sent off to fight; and the third manages to find love and hard drugs at the same time. American Idiot, which is packed full of adult themes, is based largely on Green Day’s album of the same name, along with a few other Green Day tracks.

Fans of Green Day, who have perhaps listened to the album many times, will probably feel far more at home here than the casual theatre-goer. Interludes between the songs for spoken dialogue are brief and scarce, and the song lyrics almost entirely indecipherable – certainly in the louder numbers, of which there are many. When they have the opportunity to be heard, sadly too rarely, there are in fact some good voices on the stage. Chief among these is the very underused Amelia Lily as Whatsername, who shines like a beacon through the multi-sensory confusion of smoke, driving music and strobe lights. She has relatively little stage time, but her vocals provide a rich, extra – and very listenable – dimension to the numbers. She also fares very well in the acting department, first as a gentle lover then as an angry spurned woman when Johnny (Newton Faulkner) decides he prefers his drugs to her.

Faulkner’s Johnny is the main protagonist of the piece, and he carries a lot of the story. He supplies many of the vocals too though his voice feels a little thin to successfully carry off the angst inherent in most of the songs. However, he does well in the odd gentler moments, with a nicely controlled Wake Me Up When September Ends with Alexis Gerred (Tunny) and Steve Rushton (Will). Lucas Rush does a good camp turn as drug dealer/Johnny’s alter-ego St. Jimmy complete with yellow Mohican, while Alice Stokoe, who played Heather at this performance, also provides some pleasant vocals, most notably in Last Night on Earth with Rush and Lily.

Director/choreographer Racky Plews certainly doesn’t pull any punches with this busy production, which barely seems to pause for breath during its 95 minutes. Probably a show for the Green Day fans more than anything, American Idiot is loud and often overwhelming, yet in the end oddly satisfying.

Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: Darren Bell

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