Friday 1 April 2016

American Idiot - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Music by Green Day
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews

Lucas Rush
Green Day's concept punk album explored something that teenagers around the world have been doing forever - questioning societal constructs and their own purpose in life, and feeling as though they are the only person in to experience this existential crisis. But, with a large focus on the post-2001 world, the 2004 release of American Idiot went even further, by ramping up the rage and frustration and channeling this into a highly charged and chaotic collection of thoughts and guitars.

This production, directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, creates a world that is an obvious and direct extension of the original record. How could it be anything else? It is after all written by Billie Joe Armstrong whose influence remains strong throughout. It follows three friends, Johnny, Tunny and Will, who choose to find their own paths in their own ways. Matt Thorpe's Johnny is the epitome of angst, battling his inner demons which are excellently personified by Lucas Rush's St Jimmy who takes full control of the stage each time he appears.

Steve Rushton's Will provides a valuable addition to the house band, picking up a guitar whenever possible, and has a strong voice too, that holds its own against the score - a musical affinity and ease on stage no doubt attributed to his past life as a member of the now defunct Son of Dork. It is this that compensates for the limited development afforded to his character.

Alexis Gerred's Tunny is the more complex and surprising of the three and Gerred delivers a masterful performance. A unique and powerful voice enables him to take full control of his captivating solos and physically, he is comfortable bringing an added intensity to his character.

On the night of this review, Alice Stokoe stepped up in place of Amelia Lily to cover the charmingly titled role of Whatsername. Unrecognisable as an understudy, Stokoe played the part of Johnny's girlfriend, tasked with coping with the rollercoaster that he is on, with unwavering confidence, eliciting both empathy and respect from the audience.

Under Robert Wicks' musical direction, the band makes light work of the frenetic and varied score, and interacts with the characters throughout, which is well-received. Arrangements of Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends are particular highlights.

The chaos playing out on stage does so against Sara Perks' finely crafted set and the use of a television screen, although unusual at times, works well in providing an additional dimension to the production.

Scene-setting and character exploration is a large part of the first half of the show, but luckily the pace picks up after the intermission, swiftly hurtling towards a finale that pays homage to Green Day's status as one of the biggest bands of its time. Despite all of its drama, it concludes in a way that leaves the audience wanting to pick up a guitar and have its own teenage moment again.

Runs until 2 April, then tours
Reviewed by Bhakti Gajjar
Photo credit: Darren Bell

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