“the large ensemble inject a real energy into the show”
American Idiot, directed by Matt Bentley, follows the lives of three disgruntled young men struggling to find purpose after the events of 9/11. Leaving their small town for the big city with big dreams, the trio’s paths soon diverge when Johnny (Nick Dore) succumbs to his drug addicted alter ego St. Jimmy (Sorrel Brown), Tunny (George Langdown) enlists in the army, and Will (Joshua Yeardley) returns home to look after his young child.
All set to the songs of Green Day’s chart-topping album American Idiot, the eponymous musical explores the political atmosphere of the early 2000s and the presidency of George W. Bush. The album in fact was conceived by the band as a concept album telling the story of a low-middle class American anti-hero Jesus of Suburbia and thus its rendering on stage should not be considered a jukebox musical but rather an already fleshed out tale of woe. The album only has two explicitly political songs – American Idiot and Holiday, both of which feature in the show – but a general theme of anti-establishment is threaded throughout.
Despite its relatively depressing subject matter, American Idiot is a complete romp. The show is jam-packed with songs and medleys and the large ensemble (led by Alice Signell) inject a real energy into the show with their lively dancing and expressive movements (Jen Bullock). The plot itself is simple enough to follow but some more dialogue between songs would really help to bridge the gap between back-to-back songs.
Brown’s performance as St. Jimmy is particularly dynamic and her performance of the song St. Jimmy the strongest in the show. It is a joy every time she is on stage. Dore’s performance is strong too and he truly embodies the early-2000s punk in both attitude and aesthetic. He is wholly believable, and his voice is perfect for his numerous solos. Other notable songs include American Idiot, Know Your Enemy and 21 Guns – all of which the cast deliver with great emotion and enthusiasm.
The band, led by Oscar Denihan, are phenomenal, blasting out track after track. Unfortunately, there were a few technical difficulties with electric guitars not working and sound levels varying slightly, but it was otherwise a fantastic performance from all. James Green on the drums is particularly good.
The set (Andrew Laidlaw) is simple but highly adaptable and the space well used. Black flight cases are used effectively as seats, hospital beds and even coffins of the American soldiers killed in the Iraq war. A Murphy bed is used for certain scenes and cleverly has a shelf with glued-on beer cans on its underside for décor when it is put away.
Costumes (Clare Harding) are authentically early-2000s punk with skinny jeans, flannel and eyeliner abound. Lighting (Olly Levett) is for the most part well done though again there were a few technical glitches with late spotlights and light changes out of beat to the music.
Though a cultural commentary of its time, Green Day’s call for radical change remains relevant today. American Idiot will be a thrill for any lover of pop punk and the amateur cast should be very proud of this production.
“undeniably good fun and any viewer will be blown away by the sheer grandeur of the production”
What if Romeo and Juliet didn’t end so tragically? The hit West End musical & Juliet (directed by Luke Sheppard) sets about answering exactly that by giving Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) a second chance at life. When Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) is convinced by his wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson) to write the play’s famous conclusion, Juliet and her best friends Anne, May (Alex Thomas-Smith) and Nurse (the incredible Keala Settle of Hands on a Hardbody fame) embark on a wild trip to Paris to live out their lives without restriction. A love triangle with the sweet Francois (Tim Mahendran) soon unfolds and things get all the more complicated when Romeo (Tom Francis) comes back to life…
The fantastical reimagining hinges around a selection of world-famous pop hits by the Swedish producer and writer Max Martin. Song after song is hurled at the audience, some more fitting than others to the scenario at hand. The Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’ is reprised several times to really highlight the message of the musical – the importance of making your own choice. Demi Lovato’s ‘Confident’ is a particularly enjoyable number which Juliet and Francois belt out with gusto and ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’ is comically employed when Juliet finds herself engaged after only one day of romance…again.
Max Martin’s songs are great crowd pleasers and a lot of fun but the jukebox musical always suffers by its song limitations and the songs already feel dated only three years after the musical’s release. There is also no one song that packs a real punch. The incredibly strong voice of Lee is unfortunately underused and apart from the finale song ‘Roar’ (by Katy Perry), our lead does not have a big number that she can really sink her teeth into. The band – led by Patrick Hurley – do a phenomenal job of keeping up with the incredible pace of the production with 29 total songs and countless other reprisals.
Lee is phenomenal – we will no doubt be seeing much more of her. Janson and Tompsett have great chemistry and expertly guide the story on its ways. Settle is, as expected, an absolute powerhouse, leading on laughs but also offering particularly touching moments with both Juliet and her lover Lance, Francois’ father (Julius D’Silva). The choreography (Jennifer Weber) is very strong and brings a real energy to the production.
The cast should also be praised for its diversity – in both gender expression and ethnicity. It is refreshing to see so many different types of people on stage and Janson’s proclamation that someone’s gender and sexuality is none of our business garners cheers from the West End audience.
The set and staging (Soutra Gilmour) is second to none. Objects and set pieces fly in and out; characters are lifted into the sky on chandeliers and balconies; pyrotechnics, glitter and confetti rains galore. The incredible production value makes certain scenes – mostly notably the finale – feel more like a concert than our typical theatre show. Accompanied by adventurous video and projection design by Andrezej Goulding, the audience is fully immersed in Juliet’s Parisian adventure. The lighting (Howard Hudson) too contributes to the great spectacle with strobes and spotlights a regular feature and Paloma Young’s neo-Elizabethan costumes do wonders to bring the whole show together.
Some issue can be taken with the show’s appearance of being a feminist corrective to Shakespeare when in fact Juliet once again finds herself centering her life around a man albeit a much nicer one than playboy Romeo. Moreover, amongst all the excitement, Juliet is left without almost any personality. Her characterization is akin to a princess in a pantomime, lacking any real goals or aims. It is a shame she does not have more vigour and that the writers did not think to give her some sort of career-orientated plot, for example.
& Juliet is undeniably good fun and any viewer will be blown away by the sheer grandeur of the production. It is just unfortunate that the general message of the importance agency is a good one is sometimes underpinned by the characters and plot itself.