Book, Music and Lyrics by: Pete Townsend
Book by: Des McAnuff
Director: Michael Strassen
Reviewer: Scott Stait
Based around The Who’s 1969 concept album, Tommy tells the story of a boy suffering from sensory deprivation in a world that doesn’t understand him. Following a tortured and misguided youth, by some twist of fate he miraculously regains his sight, speech and hearing and becomes a renowned phenomenon, not to mention being a dab hand at the old pinball machine. Making sense of the thorny plot directorially has always proved a problem and Michael Strassen’s production sadly falls short of overcoming it.
A spirited cast of 10 give their all for the full rocking performance, but struggle as a unit and individualism, unfortunately, comes across as messy in the extensive vivid ballet sequences choreographed by Mark Smith. James Sinclair gives a genuine and authentic performance as Captain Walker, Tommy’s soldier father, but the rest of the company fails to connect with one another and the audience in a production of insipid performances.
The Who’s music is given a good platform from the four piece band (with such an epic score it would be nice to hear the full 8-piece orchestrations live,) but slow cues and a few mis-fingered chords take away the punch of the score. The combination of choreography and vocals is also not a good mix for this company; the overall sound of the show suffers as such.
One wonders whether a concert version of this production would have worked better in this instance, as it was obvious that many of the audience members were there to hear Tommy live and did not particularly care that the drive and narrative behind the show were lacking. Nik Corrall’s makeshift set, consisting of stage blocks and a couple of polystyrene balls, merely adds to the student feel of this production and while most likely aiming for a quirky design ends up looking last minute and rushed.
A disappointing rendition of a classic rock album that here fails to inspire or delight the senses. Despite any opinion that may be shared here, the show received a standing ovation from an astoundingly appreciative audience and I am sure it will do well regardless on name alone.
Whether Tommy should remain a period piece, captured brilliantly in its 1975 film rendering and in the minds of those who know it remains to be seen; perhaps the revival at the Blackpool Grand later this year will more prove artistically more successful.
Runs until 23rd August