Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Music: Green Day
Lyrics: Billie Joe Armstrong
Director; Racky Plews
Reviewer: Craig Hepworth
Punk is not something you normally associate with a theatrical form, it’s loud, it’s busy and often lyrically predictable, that is until Green Day released the groundbreaking album American Idiot.
American Idiot is an angry yet hopeful look at the youth of America in a post 9/11 existence that are trying to find their place in a world that is changing and largely ignoring them.Three friends Johnny (Matt Thorpe), Tunny (Cellen Chugg Jones), and Will (Steve Rushton) spend their days drinking and hanging around the local 7/11. Johnny, fed up, decides to up and leave for the big city to find something… anything. With an unexpected pregnancy Will stays behind while Johnny and Tunny leave suburbia. Once there the lives of the boys separate as they discover drugs, military life and the women.
American Idiot is a modern take on the 80s Rock opera – mainly sung through with the book forming through the lyrics and music. While some may criticise the lack of book, the story is just as strong as a more “traditional” musical narrative. American Idiot has always been more feelings – the anger and passion than the narrative.
This striking production may not be as ground-breaking as the original but it works hard to please and for the most part succeeds although at times it feels like it’s trying to be a traditional rock musical, something the original didn’t do. It should feel raw, dirty and at times dangerous, this production has softened the edges and loses some of the passion.
Sara Perks’ set design of a grimy two-levelled space and some creative lighting by Tim Deiling work a treat for this production. The band may be small but they create a big sound, however the use of a vocal track to expand the volume of the hard working cast seems a little bit of a cop-out as does having one of the best songs in the show reduced to a video screen presentation. These however are quibbles of someone who has seen the production in various forms over the years.
The cast are a mixed bag, Thorpe as Johnny has a great voice and wonderful stage presence but feels slightly miscast. The character should scream disheartened and punk and sadly doesn’t, you never really feel that much for him, which for such a powerful role is a shame. Jones taking on understudy roles as Tunny knocks the role out of the park, his seething pain and anger duringhis hospital scene gives the show the jolt of emotion it needs, Jones is the shows standout. X-Factor finalist Amelia Lily also does a solid job as Whatsername, bringing heart to one of the shows anthems 21 Guns. Lucas Rush as St Jimmy takes some time to warm up but once he gets in to Act 2 he is a fireball of energy and a menacing presence.
If you are looking for a show that’s fresh and vibrant then this is the show for you. The music is powerful and full of shades that elevate Green Day above the usual punk bands. From the haunting When September Ends, Letterbomb to the stunning Boulevard of Broken Dreams and to the rage of the title song, this is a score that shines brighter than most and is presented in all its glory in this slick energetic and exciting new production. Many might avoid this show thinking it’s not for them, but this truly is a beautiful and powerful piece of theatre that deserves to be seen.
Runs until 9 April 2016 | Image: Darren Bell