BWW Review: AMERICAN IDIOT, Theatre Royal Brighton
Green Day's 2004 concept album American Idiot shot to fame for its themes of disillusion and angst in society during events such as the war in Iraq. The rock musical based on the album of the same name comes to Brighton as part of its 10th anniversary UK tour.
Directed by Racky Plews, American Idiot, with a book by Michael Mayer and the band's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, follows three friends trying to find their place and purpose in a post-9/11 world. Tunny (Joshua Dowen) joins the military; Will (Samuel Pope) remains at home to deal with his responsibilities and Johnny (Tom Milner) goes on a Prodigal Son-esque rampage.
The trio gives convincing performances as the frustrated young men. Dowen commands the stage as the young soldier, Pope plays Will with suitable moodiness, and Milner spectacularly stumbles through the chaotic lifestyle in which he finds himself.
Luke Friend, making his professional debut, gives a wildly energetic performance as Johnny's alter ego, St. Jimmy. But while well portrayed, it's difficult to have sympathy for most of the disenfranchised youths in their chosen paths of substance abuse and promiscuity.
Tunny appears to turn from his laddish behaviour from the start of the show by going to serve his country, but the same can't be said for his two friends, who seem to waste the following year or so of their lives following the World Trade Centre collapse.
The narrative echoes the premise of disillusioned artists in Rent but doesn't pull the heartstrings in the same way. The audience whoop and cheer at the songs, rather than the circumstances of the characters.
Sam Lavery gives a striking performance as the unfortunately named "Whatsername", after one of Armstrong's songs, who becomes involved with Johnny; while Siobhan O'Driscoll gives an emotive performance as a trapped teen parent, Heather. However, the women in the show are largely treated as mute objects and the clichéd narratives are disappointing to watch.
The four-piece band recreates the powerful sound of Green Day, with additional flourishes by Robert Wicks on keys and violin. Unfortunately, mixing issues make it difficult to hear certain soloists, particularly the female vocal performances.
Plews' choreography is chockful of headbanging and lively movement to match the music and Sara Perks' design grounds the piece in a grungy neighourhood, with costumes featuring chain belts and plenty of black and brightly dyed haired punk-rockers.
The show is a relentless cycle of middle fingers, hip thrusts, and f-bombs, jerking from one high-octane Green Day song to the next. If you're after an evening of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, you won't be disappointed. But the escalating storyline struggles to flow and build between the numbers.
While American Idiot is performed with immense energy by the company, the plot fails to get one onside with the three protagonists. Fans of the album will enjoy rocking out with the cast on stage.
American Idiot at Theatre Royal Brighton until 20 April, then continues on tour
Photography credit: Mark Dawson