Pete Townshend’s 1973 album Quadrophenia, now following in the footsteps of Tommy with a stage adapatation,is the zenith of the
‘rock opera’ genre. On the surface, it's the story
of a confused young man, Jimmy, coming to terms with manhood in the
fast-changing world of 1960s Britain, a time when the
values and assumptions of the previous generation were being rejected, but
without a coherent replacement. Like any cultural shift, the transition was bumpy and playing a part
was no easy ride. Jimmy, and those he represents, is a cause and
symptom of the times.
It's impossible to separate Quadropheniafrom
The Who and the cult 1979 film their album inspired. Jimmy
himself is a psychotic symbiosis of the four members of the band: the
romantic, the hard man, the hypocrite and the lunatic. The question that drives the story
is: will Jimmy, and this new generation, be able to build a new Britain
if they reject all that went before them? Ultimately, we long that "Love Reign O’er Us" in whatever
generation we live.
cast is strong: full of young exciting actors with powerful voices led by George
Maguire, Ryan O'Donnell, Jack Roth and Rob Kendrick as the four sides of Jimmy, ably marshaled by director Tom Critchley. Sophie Khan's
excellent set design adds dimension to the mirage of constant movement, while
the onstage rock band do just that. The
collaboration of strings, trumpet and the usual trio of guitar, bass
and drums provide constant tunes, with the added spice of the cast
weaving and gyrating around them.
rock opera genre is not easy on the ears, and there is little respite
from heavy rock anthems. The overall effect though is enjoyable: the
singing audience evidently enjoying recalling a much-loved era.
However, the plot and cast list is a little complex: the lashings of
emotion and discontent of Jimmy’s four split personalities is
difficult to express only in song and action; at times it is difficult
to work out what is going on. Without a decent prior knowledge of what Quadrophenia is about, this musical is a little inaccessible.
Judging by the amount of scooters parked outside the Opera
House, many who had come along to the first night of the Manchester leg of the Quadrophenia
tour were in search of nostalgia. But this production is by no means a
literal adaptation of the film 1979 starring Phil Daniels and Lesley
Ash - and all the better for it.
rock opera is set at the height of the mod era and focuses on the life
of misunderstood, fashion conscious and music loving teenager Jimmy; a
night owl determined to belong, whatever the cost. Essentially, it's a
coming of age story set to the iconic music of The Who.
Young's adaptation does mean that some knowledge of the original album
or film will aid your understanding of this stage version. There is no
dialogue - the music speaks for itself - and, like a Matthew Bourne
dance piece, the cast are reliant on non-verbal cues throughout. For
some, this may prove irritating, but compared with a piece of jukebox
musical dialogue, signalling yet another shoe-horned hit song, the
music-only approach is to be welcomed.
begin with, the arrival of four facets of Jimmy's personality is a bit
too much to handle, as the characterisation early on is quite slim. But
as the show progresses, you find yourself warming to each and every
aspect of this character and all the actors acquit themselves very
performer of the evening though is Sydney Rae White as 'the girl'.
This young actress gives a mature performance, way beyond her years and
her "Love Reign O'er Me" is a moving tour de force, making the hairs on
the back of your neck stand up. Her stock role as Jimmy's girlfriend is
underwritten but she brings depth and light and shade where there is
Wathen also deserves a mention as The Godfather, as his vocal ability
blows the roof off during many a number. The ensemble keep the action
moving along at break-neck pace, ensuring this is one show that never
outstays its welcome.
Khan's set design is very evocative and its corregated feel suits the
narrative perfectly as Jimmy is a trapped character, determined to
break free and enjoy his life.
there is much angst and some elements seem a tad dated today. But, the
exuberance and enthusiasm of the cast displays raw talent at its finest
- reminiscent of Spring Awakening - meaning that one leaves the theatre exhilarated and filled with admiration for both them and the classic tunes they sing.