Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hyman’

I fell in love with Tommy, the world’s first ‘rock opera’, when the concept album was released in 1969. I liked rather than loved Ken Russell’s 1975 star-studded film, but fell in love with it all over again when the new stage adaptation hit the West End in 1996, and here I am again completely smitten by this thrilling and uplifting revival.

One of the great successes of this production is the integrated casting, including a deaf Tommy and his mother Nora, and actors and musicians with other disabilities. The story of a boy traumatised by his father’s death, becoming deaf dumb and blind, seems to resonate so much more cast in this way, and what talent – a stage brimming with it. The four-piece band (three of whom also have a role) led by Robert Hyman is terrific. The vocals are superb, with two actors assisting Tommy and one his mum; Max Runham is particularly strong vocally as Captain Walker. Additional wind, brass, guitar and percussion is provided by eleven members of the cast.

Kerry Michael’s staging has great pace and there’s some funny, quirky period choreography by Mark Smith. Neil Irish has provided a design which manages to create both intimate and big spaces. It was an inspired idea to cast Peter Straker as the Acid Queen, for whom Pete Townsend has written an extra number. Garry Robinson has great presence as Uncle Ernie and I very much liked Alim Jayda as Tommy’s step-dad Frank. I found William Grint’s performance as Tommy deeply moving.

This has been co-produced with Graeae and some of our finest regional theatres and I can’t imagine a better use of public funding; a terrific example of how such collaborations can produce exciting world class work. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

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I hadn’t planned to spend the evening at the very theatre where the afternoon’s show – Oh, what a lovely war! – had been created 47 years ago, but the co-incidence is wonderful as it show’s the Theatre Royal Stratford is still the powerhouse it was then.

Even though it does best fit the genre ‘jukebox musical’  it would be grossly unfair to use that label because its spirit is so far from the ‘showbiz’ of those that precede it. Here you’ll find energy, passion and heart with just the right amount of chaos and anarchy worthy of the man whose songs it celebrates. I absolutely loved it!

A simple story links the songs; set in 1979, a young man is trying to fix an outing to Drury’s Hammersmith concert for his dying dad and his best mate. They don’t make it, but along the way we get a slice of early Thatcher Britain, spend time with a family coping with cancer and a budding love story. The tale is being told in a pub in the present day as a tribute and benefit to the dad. It’s a bit slight and the politics are a bit crude (though somewhat timely, post-spending cuts!) but it’s told with great passion & a big heart with an infectious, blissful chaos.

A co-production with disabled-led company Graeae, the integrated cast is simply superb. Stephen Lloyd is a charming Vinnie, you can’t help but love Stephen Collins angry deaf Colin, Karen Spicer makes such a good job of mum you’re convinced she really has turned up to play herself and Nadia Albina is so full of life as Janine it’s infectious. Garry Robson plays dad from his wheelchair and John Kelly sings lead from his. The talented Daniel McGowan gets to play two parts, guitar and two saxophones simultaneously! The band under Robert Hyman bang out the songs as if their life depended on it (great drumming from Mat Fraser, playwright Paul Sirett on guitar and Nixon Rosembert on bass), but you can still get every word of Dury’s unique (and often filthy!) lyrics. Audio describer Wayne Norman and signer Jude Mahon double up as dancers!

The spirit of Ian Dury is well and truly alive in Stratford and if he made you smile, laugh and cry like he did me, get there quick and you’ll have a ball.

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