Writers: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Director: Gordon Anderson
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Based on the memoir I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger by The Telegraph’s rock critic Neil McCormick, Chasing Bono is a gentle comedy about childhood aspirations. It’s written by the veteran pair Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais who gave us Porridgeand What Ever Happened to the Likely Lads, but, sadly, Chasing Bonois never as funny as those classic sitcoms.
Clement and La Frenais also supplied the screenplay for The Commitments, but this new play with songs, set in Ireland in the 1980s, lacks the energy of Alan Parker’s film, and the resulting stage musical. But perhaps its mild congeniality is fitting for a tale about a singer who never becomes famous.
Neil has been kidnapped by Irish gangsters and to earn his release he must write a hagiography of his captor. Danny (Denis Conway) is fed up with the bad press he’s been getting and wants his criminality to be rendered glorious and heroic. But as Neil fabricates this version of Danny’s life, he begins to share his own story, which is full of failures and missed opportunities.
In a series of flashbacks, we see Neil and his brother, Ivan, form a band at school. They’re going down the pop route while a rival band Feedback is pursuing a rock sound. The only trouble is that Feedback is a nascent U2, and the lead singer dreams of stardom. As the McCormicks change tack to take on punk, Feedback changes its name and the members soon follow suit with David Evans becoming The Edge and Paul Hewson becoming, simply, Bono. The rest is Rock ‘n’ Roll history.
In a nice touch, the show features some original songs by the McCormicks, written in the ‘80s as they struggled to follow U2’s footsteps, but it’s easy to understand why these songs never made an impact, especially when compared to those by Bono & Co. Played by Niall McNamee it’s also easy to see why Neil never became famous as a singer. With his tidy haircut and eager ambition he appears conventional and uncomplicated and even says ‘if I wanted to be a bank robber my ma would knit me a balaclava.’ On the other hand, Bono, a perfect Shane O’Regan, is layered with mystique.
The other male actors have fun with the other roles. Comedian Ciarán Dowd is a hoot as Plug, Danny’s sidekick, while Dónal Finn as Ivan does well with a thinly written character (though, disconcertingly, in his glasses, beanie and green school uniform he does resemble an Irish Where’s Wally?). In contrast, the female roles are so woefully underwritten it’s a surprise that they are in the play at all. Giving Niamh Bracken and Farzana Dua Elahe so little to do is surely a waste of their talents.
Max Dorey, meticulous as always, covers the whole of Soho Theatre’s main stage with his design representing the cottage where the gangsters are holed up. His set even reveals a hidden recording studio in what must be the biggest surprise of the night. It’s just a shame that the script isn’t as surprising. Chasing Bono, despite its swearing, seems a safe choice for the Soho Theatre, known more for its edgy productions, but as the Irish say, ‘fair fucks’ to Clement and La Frenais who are still delivering after all these years.
Runs until 19 January 2019 | Image: Contributed