20th Century Boy (Tour- Plymouth Theatre Royal)

Three hours pass in a wave of 70’s nostalgia in 20th Century Boy playing in Plymouth as part of its UK tour.

Writer Peter Rowe and director and choreographer Gary Lloyd‘s collaborative 20th Century Boy bangs every gong going oozing TRextasy in spades.

This is no flimsy jukebox musical and even stands alone as decent theatre for those out there who have never heard of Marc Bolan and T Rex.

Using the device of son Rolan Bolan searching for his father’s story through family photographs and memories of those who loved and/or worked with him, flashbacks give opportunity for showcase strutting while the story of the rise and fall of the King of Glam unfolds.

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan in 20th Century Boy
Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan in 20th Century Boy
© Robert Day

From juvenile Davy Crockett obsession to narcissism and narcotics, we watch the young Mr Feld breaking the mod mould, inventing Toby Tyler and practising etherealism with Tolkein-inspired poetry as cross-legged joss-stick scented other worldliness gives way to fame, brutal alienation of all who stand in his way, punk attitude and glitter glitz.

Understudy Llandyll Cove filled the (surprisingly unsequinned) platform boots with excellent pretentious posturing, carefully studied routines and an endearing quality as the cosmic cowboy tramples underfoot mentor John Peel, saviour Tony Visconti and others on his desperate reach for stardom. Cove tackles the complex shape-shifter well with even the pouting powerhouse’s self-taught dodgy dulcet tones captured – and he can certainly sing.

Anne Vosser’s casting is inspired: Luke Bailey (Waterloo Road) is a gentle Rolan, a convincing foil for the big characters and hedonistic lifestyles portrayed around him; Sue Jenkins (Corrie’s Gloria Todd) blends grief, nostalgia and determined unforgiving as a fading Phyllis while belter Katia Sartini is a great Helen Shapiro.

The ensemble and cast are all tremendous whether as sultry band members, booty-shaking backing singers, managers, crew or family but for me it is sassy Donna Hines and vivacious Lucy Sinclair who stole the show.

Hines sparkles as Northern soul singer Gloria Jones with killer vocals and much pzazz (and her Tainted Love is one of the highlights) but also brings pathos as she, along with the rest of the world, can not forgive herself for her part in Bolan’s death.

Meanwhile Sinclair is simply mesmerising as June Child, Bolan’s wife, muse and tireless publicist and what a voice – tremendous.

Underpinning it all are those blast from the past hits (and some less known). We are treated to a feather boa boogie through the 70s with Ride a White Swan, Metal Guru, Jeepster, Children of The Revolution, I Love to Boogie – the works – but delightfully adding my favourites Whatever Happened To The Teenage Dream (a poignant four-hander from the ladies and Bailey) and Dandy In The Underworld sung as a eulogy.

Add crisp sound production – some of the best I’ve heard here – versatile and competent musicians, and Lloyd’s inspired choreography and three hours pass in a roller coaster of emotions, nostalgia and on-your-feet-hands-in-the-air sing-along –