An affectionately satirical look at the British pop scene, this new musical from Mark Burton and Pete Sinclair (with additional songs and arrangements by Willie Dowling) fairly fizzes with energy – not 'arf! As the publicity tagline says, the show traces a musical journey “from the Beatles to Britpop and all the B*ll*cks' in between”. Burton and Sinclair have an impeccable pedigree as TV comedy writers (including Spitting Image, Have I Got News for You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks) and here they take full advantage of what are admittedly easy targets for mockery – the fads and fashions of popular culture.
Created by writers who have honed their comic skills mainly on gags and sketches, it's not too surprising that the story is, well, sketchy. The hero – or anti-hero – is the incorrigibly uncool Mike West, who, as a goofy teenager from Skelmersdale, dreams of a pop star's life in the spotlight but is always doomed to the anonymity of the backing group, standing in the shadows (but not The Shadows).
Forrest Gump-like, the innocent Mike stumbles through every music phase from the Sixties to the Nineties, including Merseybeat, psychedelia, glam rock, punk, synth pop and rave, without being fully aware of what's going on. It won't ruin the suspense to say that, after four decades of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, he finally realises that it's the music that counts, not being the Next Big Thing.
There may be no great narrative drive, but this shortfall is more than made up for by the show's witty lyrics and dialogue. There are nice parodies of songs by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Sex Pistols, the Smiths and Oasis. The writers have also come up with the great idea of embodying the sensual curves of Mike's Fender Stratocaster in female form as his fantasy girlfriend Fenda – no wonder he likes to play with his guitar.
Much credit should go to director Clive Paget for making the humorous references and visual gags work so well on stage, where a parade of ludicrous figures flit in and out of the constantly changing musical scene. Louise Belson's colourful costume designs bring to life the fashion trends of each period, from flower power and androgyny to New Romanticism and laddishness.
Jon-Paul Hevey hits the right note as the likeably naff Mike, while Melissa Lloyd makes a sultry Fenda. Jon Boydon revels in the preening frontman roles of Zak, Z and Kaz, and Glenn Chapman's chameleon skills give us hilarious versions of Andy Warhol and Malcolm McLaren amongst others.
Pop pickers, this deserves to be a smash hit.
- Neil Dowden