C Venues Adam House, Fringe Venue 34
12th – 18th August 2018 (13.45)
Stagecraft: Book: Performance:
Warning: I’m going to shoot holes in this production, and then I’m going to beg you to go and see it. I’m of a generation that approaches terms like ‘rock opera’, ‘concept album’, and so on with a certain amount of trepidation. They seem to embody everything rock is not supposed to be. Even Green Day’s American Idiot has always seemed, in some respects, a bizarre idea, and that’s allowing for the fact that listed amongst its tracks is one of the most recognisable (and greatest) rock songs ever – ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. So I carried that trepidation with me into this performance.
Footlights’ blurb for this presentation calls it “a non-stop assault on the senses,” and so I was wondering whether it would work in a Fringe venue – not many Fringe venues are anything more than compact. Add to that the fact that a ‘sung-through musical’ relies, for its ability to convince and to carry a story, on the music, the lyrics, and the accompanying histrionics. There is little chance, beyond that, for character development etc., which means it can easily become nothing more than a concert in costume, at best a spectacle. American Idiot has the advantage that Billy Joe Armstrong’s lyrics are written to be heard, not lost in the middle of a rock wall-of-sound; that thrusts upon the stage performers the obligation to deliver them with clarity.
So, did it work on that level? By and large, no. With little in the way of costume change, a black set, and the main props being a sofa in one corner plus three black boxes that were moved around the stage, and a segued sequence of energetic ensemble dance routines, there was absolutely nothing to carry the story along. Having said that, I don’t see how they could have practicably put more into it than that, given the finite limits of what can be done in a Fringe venue. What do you need to know about the story anyway? Boy loses himself; boy’s best friend’s girl has a baby; boy’s other best friend goes to war and gets maimed; boy finds himself. However, I don’t think that not being able to discern a story line from the performance matters much in this context; the blurb claims that the show will have you humming guitar solos for weeks, but let’s face it, if you came here it would be because you are already able to hum all the guitar solos! I’m prepared to bet that most of us were there because we already know and love Green Day’s music, and could join in with all the songs.
So we were left with the spectacle. There were technical difficulties to that. Occasionally a spotlight and an actor failed to line up, and an empty piece of stage was lit; occasionally a principal’s voice was lost, maybe through a fault in a radio mic. But Anna Steen’s choreography kept the eye busy, and the cast were so in-your-face – at least if you were sitting in the front row – that any such problem was gone before it was too detrimental. The energy of the performance was relentless, even in quiet moments such as the verses of ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ I felt as though there was something more going on. Occasionally a voice came out of the chorus line that I felt could have carried a principal role, but actually that added something to the delight of the performance, rather than taking away. Probably the weakest part was the ‘traditional’ encore of ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’, which actually changed the atmosphere too much. Individual stand-outs: Brett McCarthy Harrop as St Jimmy has a lot of stage-presence. Matt Galloway as Johnny maintained an anguished grimace throughout, like a noh demon-mask. Trevor Lin as the Extraordinary Girl had me at hello.
Now I come to rate the show. The book is by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, for heaven’s sake! To rate it less than four stars would be a bloody travesty. Given all I have said above, I can’t give stagecraft and performance more than three stars each. I wish The Mumble would allow me to award three-and-a-half overall, because it was on the high side of good, and only a few niggles stop me from rating it as ‘excellent’. So three stars, but pretend it’s more, and take my recommendation that if there are a handful of returned tickets out of the sell-outs you should try to get to see it. Oh, and I think Edinburgh Footlights should do Hair, if they haven’t done it before. They would nail it. I wish I’d caught their Guys and Dolls.