BWW Reviews: 20TH CENTURY BOY, New Wimbledon Theatre, June 23 2014
"Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse" may first have been said the 1949 film "Knock On Any Door" but it could have been written for the man born two years earlier as Mark Feld in the less than glamourous environs of Hackney. He was to re-invent himself as the King of Glam - Marc Bolan - before losing his life in a car crash at the age of 29, his beauty undiminished, frozen in time. 20th Century Boy (continuing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 28 June and on tour) tells his tale.
At some unspecified time before Wikipedia and YouTube, Marc's son Rolan, curious about his father's life and unable to break down his mother's tight-lipped, guilt-ridden resistance, travels to London to discover the truth. He finds Marc's brother Harry, still a London cabbie, and mother Phyllis, still blaming Rolan's own mother, Gloria Jones, for breaking up Marc's marriage and for driving the car that fateful night. Rolan learns plenty about his father in flashback scenes and through flashy songs, and ultimately contrives, with Harry, a reconciliation of the two women.
It's hardly a new nor suspense-laden story - but that's not really what the audience are there for - though some clearly find it impossible not to hiss Gloria Jones 37 years on. We want the songs, the clothes and, most of all, the look - and we get all three. The songs are loud - rock-band loud - which doesn't do the singers any favours but pleases plenty looking to relive their youth. Diego Pitarch has done a superb job with the costumes, especially when Marc is in his late 60s poet phase, signing on at the Labour Exchange as a mini Bob Dylan. And the look? Well, Warren Sollars really nails the strut, the hair flick and the cheekbones: he would cruise to a win on Stars in their Eyes. He also adopts the reedy, camp speaking voice perfectly - but he just can't quite get Bolan's unique hint of vulnerability into his singing. Not many could, to be fair.
Sollars receives good support from an energetic cast, most of whom are required to play multiple parts. Lucy Sinclair is excellent as Marc's wife June, an efficient, Sloaney type far removed from the mercurial Gloria. Donna Hines plays her as a misunderstood, hurting-but-not-showing-it, woman - and she belts out Tainted Love magnificently!
This production has all the good points of the jukebox musical - great songs, nostalgia, moments that jolt the memory, but it also suffers from the genre's greatest weakness. After the grand finale, one is left to ponder if there is enough plot to sustain over two and a half hours in the stalls. I'm not sure that there is. Most won't care, so long as they can Ride a White Swan, drape themselves in a feather boa for old times' sake and singalong - just like I did.