**GIFTED TICKETS** When I received a Press Night invite for American Idiot at the Alexandra Theatre a couple of weeks ago I was sad to decline due to a prior engagement. So when the guys at Seatplan got in touch and asked if I fancied reviewing the show for them I jumped at the chance! For those not in the know, Seatplan is a website which not only sells theatre tickets, but also has a wealth of information about the theatres themselves, all collated from audience feedback. You can find out about seating plans, the view from your chosen seats, theatre facilities, accessibility and much more. I’ll definitely be heading over to review our seats later!
In 2004, to a backdrop of disillusionment, political turbulence and dubious conflict, Green Day released their concept album American Idiot. It was a reflection on American social dysfunction, a nation still reeling from the effects of 9/11. The band described the album as a punk-rock-opera, lending itself perfectly to a transition to the stage in 2009.
This production by Sellador brings the Grammy Award winning album to UK theatres and is excellently staged on a sparse, graffittied set. The audience are bombarded from the get-go with news stories from the time, and we are dragged into the civil decline and frustrations of a disaffected youth. Certain themes still resonate today.
Whilst it seems intense – and indeed covers a number of serious subjects including mental illness, drug use, PTSD and self-harm – the show remains surprisingly light and entertaining, with the music being a backdrop to a simple storyline. The plot follows Johnny (Tom Milner), Will (Samuel Pope) and Tunny (Joshua Dowen) as they aspire to leave behind their boring suburban homes and find meaning in their lives. Naturally, this doesn’t go as planned and each has to face the consequences of their decisions.
Both choreographed and directed by Racky Plews, the first act is fast-paced and frenetic. The inclusion of an on-stage live band (Robert Wicks, Chris George, Nick Kent, and Charlie Maguire) allows interplay between the cast and the musicians, and keeps the focus on the powerful Green Day music and lyrics. All the big songs from the American Idiot album are there, along with some b-sides and also some numbers from 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. 21 Guns and Before the Lobotomy are particular highlights, as is the poignant Wake Me Up When September Ends.
If the first act is energetic and aggressive, after the interval the show becomes more intense and reflective. Occasionally even a little uncomfortable for the audience as we feel like we are witnessing the internal demons of our characters.
The staging is simple, with impressive lighting giving the buses, beds and battlegrounds a grungy feel. The cast are talented and committed, performing with both vulnerability and aggression where it’s called for. Tom Milner plays Johnny, nominally our lead character although this is truly an ensemble performance. He portrays troubled and tragic tremendously well, with second-to-none vocals. And local boy Joshua Dowen gave an immense performance as Tully, particularly with a stunningly choreographed scene with Extraordinary Girl in Act 2.
No musical theatre production is complete without an X-Factor alumni, and American Idiot has two. Sam Lavery plays the seductive Whatsername, whilst Luke Friend plays St Jimmy with intensity and charisma whilst pushing Johnny towards a drug-fuelled decline.
If I were to have any criticism about the show it would be that the story sometimes lacked a little coherence. I found a little prior knowledge about the concept behind the American Idiot album helped me understand better. However as a showcase for Green Day’s music – without being a stereotypical “jukebox” musical – it is perfect.
Our tickets were gifted by Seatplan and unfortunately on this occasion the seats we were given get a big thumbs-down from us. Seats A2 and A3 in the dress circle have an extremely restricted view and during Act 1 we couldn’t see the left hand side of the stage or the rear where the band were located. Luckily we were able to move seats in the interval but the seats definitely affected our experience in the first half.