Tuesday, 24 June 2014

20th Century Boy

New Wimbledon Theatre, London


Director and choreographer - Gary Lloyd

Warren Sollars

Some twenty years ago, Steven Spielberg shocked the world, bringing life to a T. Rex in Jurassic Park. Today the movie-maker's feat has been more than matched by the clever pair of Gary Lloyd and John Maher, who having successfully delivered Michael Jackson's hits to the West End in Thriller Live, turn their creative focus to Marc Bolan and his eponymous band.

Where other juke box musicals attract an audience that spans the ages, The New Wimbledon Theatre was a packed out sea of grey as a throng of 60-somethings re-lived (or more likely imagined) a mis-spent youth. Either way, it didn't really matter. They were there to enjoy the recreated glam-rock sensation and the show did what it said on the tin. The sound (all played live) was a nigh on perfect cover and in hiring Warren Sollars to play the wild-haired rock star, casting director Anne Vosser has found a performer recognisably Bolan-esque to those of us old enough to remember the 1970's. Sollars is simply immense as the doomed singer and leads a cast that matches his skills. Donna Hines and Lucy Sinclair as Gloria, Bolan's girlfriend and June his ex-wife respectively, both put in turns that are vocally thrilling and contribute to spine-tingling moments, whilst Katia Sartini offers up a convincing Helen Shapiro.

Away from the songs, the narrative is trite and cliche-ridden. The show tracks Bolan's (real life) son Rolan on a fictional journey from LA to London, to learn about his father and ultimately reconcile Phyllis (a decent performance from Sue Jenkins), Bolan's grieving mother with June. Whilst Bolan's back story is fascinating, the show renders it trivial, with a mediocrity clearly signalled in the evening's programme: always be suspicious when no book writer is credited amongst a show's creative team.....

It is however when the band is in full spate that 20th Century Boy becomes a slick pulsating display of excellence. Lloyd's dance work is inspired and with Maher's musical arrangements, this replica T.Rex roars with an authentic magnificence. Diego Pitarch's sliding screens of scenery, married to projections that range from powerful to occasionally cheesy, lend themselves well to the touring production and credit to Chris Whybrow's sound design which was perfectly balanced on this first night in Wimbledon. A nod also to Ben Cracknell, whose lighting design that needed to segue from moments of intimacy to simulated stadia performances, was never less than convincing.

Fans will not be disappointed. All the band's hits are there and a 3 song encore had everyone dancing in the aisles and cheering for more. Technically and musically, there's no finer company in town.

Plays until 28th June then tours

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