Reviewed – 5th May 2022
“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.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Stephen Russell
Bridewell Theatre until 14th May
Other shows recently reviewed by Flora:
Queen of the Mist
Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 19th August 2019
“a musical with a profound heart, and more than a touch of a morality tale”
Queen of the Mist is an ironic meditation on a whole range of recognisable American characters, including unscrupulous managers, small minded small town citizens, a radical Temperance campaigner — and even the assassin of an American president. In Michael John LaChiusa’s musical, they all get caught up in the story of one highly unusual sixty-three year old woman striving for immortality — and enough money to live out the end of her days. For protagonist Anna Edson Taylor, the problem is how to achieve this when life has you so beaten, the only route left to you is to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Based on a true story, we first meet Anna drifting from small upstate New York towns to small midwestern cities. All she meets is a hard nosed scepticism and a grasping at dollars — a wasteland for a woman who proclaims throughout Queen of the Mist that “There is a Greatness in Me.” Her longing for significance is dismissed by those who see Anna’s quest for consequence as that of an unscrupulous huckster and “Queen of fools.” There is more than a little truth to this, but in the words and music of LaChiusa, Anna’s search transcends the hardscrabble existence of a self proclaimed “quintessential hero”. We see instead, an intelligent woman who takes on the forces of nature “with science”, and wins. With such a barnstorming ending to the first half as Anna goes over the Niagara Falls, where can Queen of the Mist possibly go in the second?
Anna’s story falters in the second half, and this is hardly surprising. Anna’s life falters as well. As the first person to survive a trip over the Falls, we see her life turn into a series of lecture tours that all fail because of Anna’s inability to describe “what it was like”. There is conscious irony at work here, in giving Anna the posthumous fame she so desperately sought in life. Michael John LaChuisa once again creates a challenging work laden with memorable music and big ideas.
This revival of Queen of the Mist at the Charing Cross Theatre is noteworthy in several respects. With the audience seated both in front and behind the stage, set designer Tara Usher has produced a flexible space that teases with several delightful surprises as Anna’s story proceeds, amply supported by lighting designer Beth Gupwell. But it is director Dom O’Hanlon who deserves special mention for making the most of this challenging space. It is rare that one sees such confident, ingenious work. His direction highlights the talents of the cast, particularly Trudi Camilleri, playing Anna, and Will Arundell, who plays Anna’s first manager, Frank Russell. The musical direction of Connor Fogel is also confident, and with his band, supports the singing talents of all the cast to good effect.
Queen of the Mist is not a light hearted musical, but it is a musical with a profound heart, and more than a touch of a morality tale. For how different, really, is our contemporary world, with its own parade of hucksters and money grabbers? Anna Taylor Edson’s story is a perfect example of restless people in search of distinction, deserved or not. But Queen of the Mist is ultimately a musical about hope and resurrection, and inspirational in its own unique way.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Stephen Russell
Queen of the Mist
Charing Cross Theatre until 5th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: