Theatre Royal Stratford East
Opening Night – 12th June 2017
“an energetic and sensory delight”
The Who’s Tommy returns to London at the Theatre Royal Stratford East with an energetic production from the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich in collaboration with Ramps on the Moon. Whilst it has been quite some time since the rock musical, based on the 1969 film Tommy, has graced the British stage and the chance of it appearing aged and irrelevant is high, this production propelled the 60s anthems and its themes into the social climate of 2017.
The story, set in post-war Britain, follows Tommy, the “deaf, dumb and blind kid,” who becomes a “pinball wizard” and goes from being rejected by his peers to becoming their new icon. It is told through an energetic soundtrack led through Robert Hyman’s beautiful musical direction, which doesn’t give the audience time to review some of the absurdities within the play’s story.
It is the perfect musical for challenging the ways in which those with disabilities, in particular disabled artists, are viewed in society. There is frequent comparison between the institutionalisation of disabled people in post-war Britain and the ways in which some of those sentiments prevail in certain places within society today. This, however, is certainly not the focus of the production and is a more about the accessibility of the show itself.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE KWASNIAK
The show is championed on its choreography (Mark Smith), beautifully incorporating British Sign Language into the movement and dancing in each scene. The chorus, were incredibly energetic and combined their instrumental skills with their other established theatrical abilities. It was an energetic and sensory delight from the very beginning and whilst the second half was overshadowed by the vitality of the first, the production ended on an absolute high.
Tommy, is truly an inclusively sensual experience which at times, like many rock musicals, felt like more concert rather than a musical. The exceptional lighting design from Arnim Freiss really captured the essence of the post-war setting, switching frequently between a colourful display to represent the growing youth movements of the time, as well as a growing sense of community and love, and a more muted tone for scenes displaying more sombre moments in the performance.
It was clear from the production, and the energy within the theatre, that this was a pure collaborative performance attached to a wider creative community of London-based disabled and non-disabled artists. Ramps on the Moon is a ‘ground-breaking touring project that signals a step change in disability arts provision in the UK’ through collaborating a group of six theatres across the country who are committed to centralise their programmes around Deaf and disabled artists.
Reviewed by Claire Minnitt
Tommy is at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 17th June