Thursday 12 September 2013

The Prodigals

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Written by Ray Goudie and Joe Harmston
Directed by Joe Harmston

Greg Oliver

The Prodigals is that curious piece of musical theatre that whilst often provoking disbelief, still packs a significant punch.

The show’s graphic motif is a poppy and it is aspects of that powerful flower that form the focus of the musical’s message. The poppy is the symbol of British military sacrifice and remembrance; it is the cash crop for the Afghan farmers that British forces are often tasked to destroy; and most pointedly it is also the source of the opium that has claimed and ruined so many lives.

The parable of the prodigal son is the premise that underlies the show. Simon Bowman is the proud regimental Colonel Gibson, the father of two sons. Mike has dutifully followed his father, taking up a commission in the army, whilst Kyle's passion lies in music. As the rock star’s fame grows, so too does his dependency on heroin and a tragic but muddled act one sees him fall from grace after supplying a fatal dose of heroin to Kelly his childhood friend and singing partner. Act two sees the show gather pace and the unconditional love that Bowman showers upon his wastrel offspring provides a (rare) moment of powerful poignancy.

Bowman’s measured grief, anguish and torment is a performance of depth and sensitivity that often outweighs the material he is given to work with. His dialog whilst impassioned, too often lacks credibility and there is a sense here of a magnificent talent squandered. Sam Ferriday's Mike is a lacklustre performance, also not helped by a script and lyrics that are just too trite.

The redemption of this work however lies with the youthful and bogglingly talented Greg Oliver as troubled musician Kyle. His journey into addiction is vivid, upsetting and above all, believable. We wince at his pain and in an inspired move by the show’s creators, the effects of a heroin fix are brilliantly realised by three mocking airline stewardesses, fantasy illusions brought on by the drug, who are as chilling as they are superficially comic. Oliver brings power, passion and an incredible athleticism to his role and whenever his dialog even hints at becoming cheesy, he redeems the moment with an astonishing depth of performance. To be fair, his performance is complemented by Sarah Watson's Kelly, evoking tragedy and pathos without once straying into mawkish sentimentality. Beautiful voice too! 

A shout-out is earned by Ben Cracknell whose as ever clever lighting suggests poppy fields, prison cells, Chinook helicopters and rock concerts.

The show clearly speaks to its youthful audience, who impressively rose to salute the cast at the finale. Where Trainspotting was a movie that spoke of a drug-damaged generation, so too does The Prodigals offer an unsentimental look at the tragic consequences of heroin abuse. It deserves a future but demands major re-working.

Runs until 14th September 

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