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BWW Review: 27, Cockpit Theatre, 12 September 2016

With dazzling lighting intersected by writhing bodies, it's impossible not to be reminded of Hot Gossip, the dance troupe that catapulted Arlene Phillips, this show's co-director, to fame in the Seventies. Indeed, the show's star, rock god Greg Oliver, looks and sounds a bit like Seventies lad-about-town, Robin Askwith, adding to a dated feeling that comes from a book by Sam Cassidy that treads a well-worn narrative path of success-excess-tragedy.

Jimi and two mates are getting nowhere pitching to record labels when, improbably on a Tube train (even Streatham's Kate Moss was discovered at an airport) Jimi is swept up by vampish Ms M (Lucy Martin in Agent Provocateurish lingerie), changes his name to Orpheus, and is promised fame, fortune and all the trimmings by record company CEO Ryan Molloy (who stops just short of saying "Please allow me to introduce myself / I'm a man of wealth and taste.")

Soon it's 24/7 sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll and, even if we hadn't seen the posters in the foyer or clocked the title's reference to the "27 Club" (Kurt, Jim, Janis, Jimi H, Amy and co.), we all know where this story ends. (One day someone will make a musical called 77 about Keith Richards, but the time isn't right for that yet).

There's some blokeish falling out and making up with bandmates Jason (Ryan Gibb, the world's most sensitive drummer) and Max (Jason Donnelly as The Quiet One) and a doomed girlfriend-next-door, Amy (natch), a part that gives the very talented Cassie Compton little to do beyond simpering and proving what a very fine singer she is.

Which leads to a curious second half that sends Orpheus into the Underworld in pursuit of Amy, setting him three Scooby-Dooish riddles to solve. He meets the authors of his fate down there (though not his dealer whom I expected to turn up) and then has a decision to make.

It's all rather loud and, with some spectacular lighting by Nick Eve, quite literally in your face at times, with three witch-like Fates watching from on high and lending plenty of volume if the (amplified) sound threatens not to go to eleven. Oliver does a decent job on the rock anthems, belted out with a Meatloaf-like delivery and there are good turns from Martin and Molloy when they get their numbers, but there's too much clunky dialogue between the songs and we never really get to know the people, as they are more cartoon than character.

That said, it's glitzy and glamorous and at least it's attempting to do something for a younger theatre audience, and there's not an American accent to be heard - all of which is laudable. With a little extra snap in the dialogue, less time in the underworld and more time getting to know Jimi and Amy, this bold would-be crowdpleaser could have real potential. As it stands now, it's a tad predictable and underwritten to succeed fully.

27 continues at the Cockpit Theatre until 22 October.

Read our interview with Ryan Molloy


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From This Author Gary Naylor