Review: JUST FOR ONE DAY, The Old Vic

Soaring anthems can't mask a shallow production.

By: Feb. 14, 2024
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Review: JUST FOR ONE DAY, The Old Vic
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Just For One Day - Old VicJust For One Day breathlessly takes us back to 13 July 1985, when a now unthinkable 1.5 billion people watched a benefit concert in aid of raising money for faminine in Ethiopia. The story of Live Aid, raising hundreds of millions of pounds, remains compelling. Bob Geldof's indefatigable efforts to rouse the world into action deserve to be brought to the stage, but not necessarily in this format.

John O'Farrell's book is clunky to say the least, shoehorning in a story about a woman looking back on her life when she attended Live Aid and a Gen Z-er who asks both her and Bob Geldof for help understanding what happened at the time, so she can make a change now.

The production rushes along, failing to examine the problems with the movement in any depth. The commercial exploitation of tragedy, the assumption of Africa as one single entity; mentioned, but not explored. With such an extensive song list, we may as well be watching a concert rather than a musical production.

While the script may be full of exposition and awkward phrasing, the music is brilliant and saves this production from complete failure. The band, playing on a raised platfrom at the back of the stage throughout is immaculate. Musical supervisor Matthew Brind brings in clever arrangements that carry the story along with real energy and imagination.

Just For One Day - Old Vic
Danielle Steers (Marsha) and Craige Els (Bob) 

Craige Els has fun as the irascible, foul-mouthed Bob Geldof, Jack Shalloo is hugely likable as Midge Ure, whose rendition of “Vienna” is spine-tingling. Olly Dobson gives great energy to his role as lawyer John, but is underused. Julie Atherton is cartoonish, but great value, as Margaret Thatcher; her exchanges with Els are hugely funny.

In an attempt to celebrate the people behind the scenes, rather than just the celebs, we are introduced to characters such as technician Jim, played by Ashley Campbell, and organiser-in chief Marsha, played by Danielle Steers. Both belt out their songs with passion and heart, but have very little character arc to work with.

Red Cross worker Amara, played by a deeply immpressive Abiona Omonua, gives some explaination of what is happening on the ground in Ethiopia. Her character is brought in to address the shadow of accusations of white-saviours, but never gets more than surface-deep into the topic. 

Just For One Day - Old Vic
Ashley Campbell (Jim), Danielle Steers (Marsha) and the Company

Director Luke Sheppard works with pace and cleverly gives the ensemble great sway. They are pretty fantastic, with everyone given a chance to shine, particularly with Ebony Molina’s excellent choreography.

Thankfully the whole production avoids the cliché of impersonation, leading to some unique takes on the tracks. The Police's "Message in a Bottle" is a standout, acting as a climax to Act 1 where it underlines Geldof’s fears that he cannot get his voice heard. The Cars’ “Drive” is a haunting reflection on the famine itself and Phil Collins' "In the air tonight' acts as a tense wait, the night before the concert itself.

For an evening of rousing music, you cannot do better, but you may also leave with the hollow sense of a missed opportunity to understand and learn.

Just For One Day is at The Old Vic until 30 March

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


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