BWW Review: AMERICAN IDIOT, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
American Idiot brings Green Day's much-loved album to life in a punk-rock production that rebels against the musical archetype and vigorously sticks its middle finger up to everything and anything that gets in its way.
The plot follows three disaffected friends as they try to make their way out of American suburban life and find a place for themselves in a world that confuses, infuriates and disgusts them. Johnny (Tom Milner), Will (Samuel Pope) and Tunny (Joshua Dowen) part ways and opt for very different directions, each with its own consequence.
The story of young people leaving home for bigger and better things is a trope found in countless stories, albums, and plays; here, we see it presented in black eyeliner, studded belts and ripped jeans to the eruptive sounds of Green Day's hits.
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews and designed by Sara Perks, American Idiot is visually exciting and musically sensational. In taking Green Day's 2004 album of the same name onto the stage, it adds volume to the band's commentary on a disillusioned generation, turbulent politics, and a world in conflict.
The album's central character, Jesus of Suburbia, is brought to life before our eyes in Johnny, and we watch him and his friends turn their backs on the town and family they have grown to detest.
This show is furious, fast-paced and frenetic; the on-stage band blasts out song after song as we're taken on a rapid ride through months of hopeless soul-searching, confusion, and angst.
The staging is excellent. The inclusion of a live band (Robert Wicks, Chris George, Nick Kent, and Charlie Maguire) avoids the risk of a faux-rock sound, and the rage and power of Green Day's original music are well and truly present here, giving the production the quality of a music gig. It almost seems strange to be seated when you feel you should be standing in a crowd, vying to get closer to the stage.
The grungy set is brought to life with the simplest props which slide, morph and transform into beds, buses and battlegrounds. With lighting from Tim Deiling that, again, brings elements of rock gigs onto the stage, and clever use of different levels, the production is intense and impressive visually as well as aurally.
Indeed, with such strong music, the actors need to keep up with equally powerful vocals, and they achieve that and more. The cast is bold and brash and performs with heartfelt aggression.
Tom Milner's Johnny is tremendously troubled; his disdain for his nation is palpable, and his tragic descent is moving and sometimes hard to watch. Joshua Owen takes on the role of Tunny with fantastic vocals and acute emotion, and Samuel Pope completes the trio perfectly with his portrayal of Will, who is trapped in a world turned upside down.
Luke Friend, who placed third in The X Factor back in 2013, has found his place on stage playing St Jimmy, a despicable and demonic alter-ego to Johnny's 'Jesus of Suburbia' character. He clearly loves this role as American Idiot's villain - his professional theatre debut - and while he is slightly rough around the edges, he embraces his part and sings with skill.
He is joined by Sam Lavery, another X Factor alum, who is darkly seductive as Whatsername, and wows with her talent and stage presence.
It's always interesting to see how songs from well-loved bands are forged into a stage-worthy musical. The story is fairly simple; in fact, it feels like a backdrop to the music itself, and has few twists and turns, and very little in the way of climaxes.
On its own, the plot is not exceptional, though enjoyable, and sometimes feels shoehorned into the score; yet, when paired with the music, it is thrilling. Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics give the plot pace and come together to create a fully formed story the surprises you.
This musical is more of a full-blown concert with a little dialogue thrown in, in contrast to the formats we are more used to, where the two are often equally balanced. Although this is as Billie Joe Armstrong intended, and is reflective of the tone of the album, it does feel almost too chaotic and quick and could be confusing for anyone not familiar with the music already.
However, while the story would be a little middling on its own, the cast, music and creative design bring it to life, creating an energetic and fantastic overall production.
While the music and lyrics were written in a recently post-9/11 world, the story of discontented youth and a politically volatile society is perpetual and, in today's climate, still very relatable. The music has not aged; nor has this show. The frustration of the characters is familiar to the audience, adding to the power of the already potent lyrics.
American Idiot is a full-throttle show sure to delight Green Day fans and musical lovers alike. While the strength of the production does not lie in the plot, the music, passion and anarchy-fuelled performance of the cast hold it together.
This show packs a punch and brings an age-old story of rebellion and soul-searching to life in a punk-rock explosion.
Photo credit: Mark Dawson Photography