Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Theatre Review: American Idiot, 10th Anniversary UK Tour, Edinburgh Playhouse.* [AD | Gifted]

*Tickets to this show were gifted to me in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own. All photography is copyright of American Idiot UK.


I can't remember a time before Green Day were in my consciousness. Having siblings who were 10 and 12 years older than me meant that when their worldwide smash third album, Dookie, came out in 1994, I was quickly familiarised with it. Probably more so than any four year old should be, but that's a different issue. In my own teenage years, Green Day still felt relevant and I still love their music to this day. Therefore, being invited to watch the opening night of the UK touring production of American Idiot at the Edinburgh Playhouse was an offer I could not refuse.

The album American Idiot was released in 2004, a concept album based on the state of the USA post-9/11 and during the Iraq War. The 'punk-rock opera' follows the story of Jesus of Suburbia, an anti-hero who expresses disillusionment and cynicism about the political landscape - and fifteen years on, it still feels appropriate. The musical took shape in 2009 and includes all the songs from the album, plus a few from 21st Century Breakdown.


The story follows three teens - Johnny, Tunny and Will. They are sick of life in their small town, and dream of escaping. While Johnny and Tunny move to the city, Will is 'trapped' at home when his girlfriend becomes pregnant. Tunny quickly joins the military and is shipped off to war, while Johnny spirals into drugs and complicated relationships.

Here's the thing, and it is very hard to write a review of this show without being honest about it: American Idiot is thin on plot. The storyline is basic and lacks twists or turns. It's less of a musical, more of a concert. This should not be taken as a criticism, particularly of this touring company, as they excel at what they are given to work with. But if you were judging a show on its story alone, this would come up short.


Thankfully then, that is not all this show has to offer - not even close. From the dark and gritty set design, the clever staging over two levels, the use of a tv screen that produces the most unique effect I've seen in a theatre, to the fast-paced choreography - this is a very visually appealing show, but where it really excels is, of course, the music. The inclusion of a live band on stage is perfect, and they steal the show throughout. They are excellent, and I was so impressed with how they managed to capture a punk vibe without drowning out the vocals - perfect sound design! 

American Idiot bursts into life with the eponymous title track. It is immediately chaotic, frenetic, and exciting - and it rarely lets up from there. The arrangements of such a beloved album to fit a full company are subtle enough to not take away from the originals, but actually enhance the raw feelings and spirit of the songs. From the playfulness of Holiday to the tender solo rendition of When It's Time, the range of emotion throughout is varied enough to create a highly engaging musical.


There are so many incredible performances in this show that I don't know where to start. Slightly dodgy American accent aside, ex-The Voice and Waterloo Road star Tom Milner is exceptional as Johnny. A particularly powerful scene near the start of the second act shows his ability to transfix an audience, even while completely silent. Sam Lavery, making her stage debut, is bigger and better than the part: Whatsername is criminally underwritten and yet she still manages to sparkle in the role. In fact, when she is finally given time to shine in Letterbomb she gives potentially the stand-out performance of the night. It is the moment where the female characters are finally given a bit of agency and personality, which the show tends to lack.


Luke Friend, who came third on The X Factor, gives an engaging, swaggering, Jagger-esque performance as St Jimmy, Johnny's drug-dealing alter ego. Joshua Dowen mixes muscles with an equally strong vocal performance as Tunny. Raquel Jones plays Extraordinary Girl and is as  entrancing as her character's name suggests. Siobhan O'Driscoll was powerful and emotional as Heather, and her storyline with Samuel Pope, who nails the immature and paranoid role of Will, was one of my favourite parts of the show. Glenn Adamson adds levity as Theo, and Shekinah McFarlane shows off stunning vocals in her brief role as Alysha. 

It's as an ensemble that this production really comes into its own though. 21 Guns is haunting and moving, and Wake Me Up When September Ends begins as a very poignant rendition between the three friends, Johnny, Tunny and Will, before bursting into life with help from the rest of the cast. The addition of my favourite ever Green Day song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) as the final number really seals the deal on how talented, passionate, and captivating this company is.


American Idiot may not have the most exciting plot ever, but in terms of music that makes you feel, it is hard to rival. Green Day fans will love every second of this, but even if you've never heard of them you'll find it hard not to be swept up in the rebellious energy of the disenfranchised youth.

American Idiot is on at the Edinburgh Playhouse until February 9th, before touring the country throughout 2019. Click here to buy tickets for the Edinburgh shows, or here to find out when it will be near you!
*Tickets to this show were gifted to me in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own. All photography is copyright of American Idiot UK.
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