Tommy at the Greenwich Theatre.
I attended the opening preview of Tommy on Wednesday 29th July 2015. I appreciate that it is not considered good form to review a show until Press night has been and gone in order to give a show a chance to get into it’s stride however I can’t help myself!!! I’m sure if any of the cast or creative read this review they won’t mind as, to sum the show up in one word, it would be ‘incredible.’
The concept and music of the show is taken from The Who’s double rock Album ‘Tommy.’ The show tells of Tommy (played by Ashley Birchall) who experiences a traumatic event aged 4 and then goes deaf, dumb and blind. You follow Tommy as he experiences sexual abuse at the hands of Uncle Ernie (played by John Barr) and bullying at the hands of Cousin Kevin (played by Giovanni Spano). Cousin Kevin takes Tommy to the arcade and he is a ‘Pinball Wizard.’ Tommy later freed of his condition, becomes a sensation and leaves home. Later, at seeing one his fans hurt, invites them to his house as he returns home and when his fans turn against him he begins to embrace the family he turned his back on during his stardom.
I have never seen the show before but I have seen Roger Daltrey perform the album in concert. I have always been unsure as to what to make of this as a storyline, mainly because some of the themes made me uncomfortable so I went not knowing what to expect but very intrigued.
The show caught my attention from the very first chord. Striking bright white costumes and clever chorography hits the audience during the overture and from that moment I was hooked.
The production is directed by Michael Strassen and it is one of the best directed productions I have seen for a while. There is a lot of abstract interpretation full of imagination but this is why I loved it so much. The simple but effective set removes the need for any scene changes with the cast simply setting the scene with items such as rope, rucksack or a sheet. This consequently means that the show moves at a breakneck pace with the cast and music not even stopping to allow the audience to applaud.
The choreography, by Mark Smith, equally matches the imaginative direction. With such imagination overflowing from the stage you need a cast that commit to the show or it risks falling flat on its face. I have not seen a cast work this hard for a while, their movements were all sharp performing the choreography within an inch of its life and the singing and characterisation was equally as strong.
Ashley Birchall as Tommy was thoroughly convincing with his physicality changing from the deaf, dumb and blind child to the pinball sensation, he almost seemed a different person. John Barr as Uncle Ernie was brilliantly repulsive with his leering grin making me physically squirm in my seat.
I mentioned at the start of the review that there were themes in this show that made me unsure about the show however the fact that this was not glorified but presented in a clever manner made me feel a lot more at ease about this issue. T
My only small niggle was the sound balance between the cast and band as we struggled to hear the cast on occasion however as mentioned before this was a preview I saw so I am not going to pass judgement on this. As an aside watching John Barr fall down off stairs and crash into the Musical director (all whilst keeping in character) did raise an eyebrow from the audience and hope that Mr Barr is ok (and the MD’s Ipad)!!
The fact that this was the first preview astounds me and clearly the rest of the audience as there was a standing ovation which continued long after the cast had left the stage. If this was a preview performance it makes me question how on earth it is going to get better when it is spot on already. If you like your Musical Theatre with a bit of edge and as far removed from G&S as you can possibly get then this is the perfect show for you.
The show is on until the 23rd August at the Greenwich Theatre with press night on the 31st July. To book tickets click here.