Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Theatre review: American Idiot

Green Day's one of those bands I never really followed too closely but, as it turns out, I know and like a lot more of their songs than I would have guessed. In any case they're an unlikely choice to get a jukebox musical, but it happened with American Idiot - largely consisting of songs from the concept album of the same name - which has only previously had concert performances in this country, so Racky Plews' production is the first full UK staging. The songs are held together by a fairly vague story of Johnny (Aaron Sidwell) and his two friends, who all find themselves at a loss after 9/11. Johnny leaves his parents' suburban home to move to a city where he soon becomes a junkie; Tunny (a newly-buff Alexis Gerred) joins the army, losing a leg in Iraq; and in the least-developed storyline Will (Steve Rushton) stays behind with his pregnant girlfriend, spending his days getting stoned and feeling abandoned by his friends. X Factor song-shouter Amelia Lily also appears as Johnny's girlfriend Whatsername.

Presumably Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer's book has a vast amount of stage directions, as what story there is doesn't get told through song or dialogue for the most part - any plot developments are acted out during the songs, so it's not entirely unlike watching a ballet.

The songs are inevitably the best thing about the show, and though I might have reservations about the production I wouldn't mind the album (or to just download the original Green Day tracks, I guess.) The sound balance not being too great, the rockier songs are a lot of fun but the lyrics are rarely clear, which may be one of the reasons I felt like the storytelling was entirely visual. The ballads fare much better (there's no opportunity to fit "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" into the story so it's done as an encore) as they're mostly done acoustically.

The cast are very good and throw a lot of energy into their angry young men and women - as well as Sidwell and Gerred, Natasha Barnes stands out in brief but powerful moments as the pregnant Heather. The show struggles to come to life though, which I think is down to the venue: The small stage means the production can only be slightly more elaborate than it would have been in a fringe venue like the Union or the Landor, but the Arts is a proscenium arch with a lot more audience capacity than those venues. So there's no opportunity for either epic scale or real intimacy.

The blocking was also frustrating from my seat in the slips: Though restricted view they normally give a view of most of the stage, but with a lot of the action crammed onto a small balcony or in the corners I missed a lot. At one point I thought the production had stopped for a technical fault for some minutes, only to realise Johnny had been quietly shooting up in a corner I couldn't see (if you want cheaper seats, it looks like the Left Slips will provide a view of more of the action than the Right Slips.) This is still clearly a strong show with a lot of angry enthusiasm, but I did feel like Plews could have done more to get the audience caught up in its grungy energy - I suspect a revival in a few years in one of those fringe theatres is one I'll enjoy more than this one.

American Idiot by Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool, Jason White and Michael Mayer is booking until the 27th of September at the Arts Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes straight through.

No comments:

Post a Comment