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Posts Tagged ‘Kerry Michael’

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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This is the sort of show only Stratford East can do and it’s what they’ve always done. It’s in the spirit of Joan Littlewood – populist, irreverent, a little bit shocking, with an important message. You have to forgive its flaws because it’s heart is in the right place and its great fun.

David Baddiel has adapted his film of the same name and Erran Baron Cohen has provided the songs. It’s the story of a not particularly faithful Muslim minicab driver who discovers he was born Jewish and adopted by Muslims. He looks for his birth father who, as it happens, is dying and he’s not allowed to see him. He explores what it’s like to be Jewish with the help of his Jewish neighbour, a black cab driver. The mother of his son’s fiancée has just married a prominent Muslim fundamentalist who is about to visit to give his approval to the match, or not. This of course provides ample opportunity for comedy, a touch of farce and snipes at all things fundamental and bigoted.

The comedy is broad and the songs a touch music hall and it’s a shade too long, but it’s warm-hearted and great fun and the TRS audience lapped it up. It’s Book of Mormon Lite, more gentle (and very British) satire and a lot less cynical. It’s message seems to be that there’s either one god or no god and all the energy expended (and tragedies perpetrated) by those that think there’s more than one god and they are in conflict is preposterous. It’s a message most of us buy, though towards the end it’s delivered with a little too much heavy-handedness.

There’s a rough and readiness to Kerry Michael & David Baddiel’s staging which somehow suits the style of the piece. The performances are as broad as the comedy, which again suits the show. With just nine performers, a four-piece band and a relatively simple set (that relies on a lot of doors), it has a homespun feel in keeping with the venue and its audience. The excellent cast is led by the very impressive Kev Orkian (who I think I’ve only seen once before, when was the best thing about the Wimbledon panto with Dame Edna!) and their sense of fun was infectious.

You can nitpick as much as you like about this show, but it’s good fun, makes some important points with a light touch and provides good entertainment at ‘a people’s theatre’.

 

 

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