Writer: Doug Lucie
Director: Mike Bradwell
Reviewer: Joseph Leigh
Solid Air is a superb, beautiful, thought provoking piece of new theatre that rewards the audience from the moment they walk in until the final applause has died away. The talented cast of six each bring truthful and heartfelt performances that capture the diversity of the characters without falling into the trap of cliché or stereotype. Based on the central real life character of John Martyn and his friend and fellow musician Nick Drake, Solid Air is set back stage at an Oxford University college ball. With the addition of anarchist Dave, secretarial student Sarah, and socially aspirational Anthony Blair, as well as off duty Corporal George, this could quickly become a thinly veiled farce. What is created, however, is a carefully balanced and well-orchestrated production that takes the music that was the life of its protagonist as its soul and tackles the full ambit of political and social thought with ease and skill.
Particular mention must go to Sean Biggerstaff, whose portrayal of John Martyn is simply sublime. Biggerstaff displays a superb mastery of accent subtle character development, while his singing and guitar work is excellent. That is not to say that the entire cast does not produce a high level of performance, and Alice Bailey Johnson’s Sarah, Tom Clegg’s Nick Drake, Phil Elstob’s Anthony Blair, Jim English’s Dave and Joe Sims’ George each display clear character journeys and interact with compelling believability.
The writing itself is excellent, and Doug Lucie has managed to capture the microcosm of Oxford college life and politics while expertly inserting it into 1970’s politics and music. The dialogue engages the audience in genuine thought and soul searching, tackling social issues including racism and social mobility in a subtle but effective manner.
It would also be remiss to fail to mention the impressive set. Making full use of the Drum’s excellent space, set and costume designer, Bob Bailey, has recreated an Oxford college room with breath-taking care and attention. Combined with the subtly developing lighting by Jason Taylor and the exquisite sound design of Gregory Clarke, the stage creates an immersive world that sets a living, breathing backdrop that evolves with the plot rather than simply sits behind it.
Solid Air is an impressive production that simply asks the audience to think. There is intelligent yet accessible humour, phenomenal music, and surprisingly gentle and touching inter-character relationships. This show is a must see, and a credit to all involved.