Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend’s masterpiece, 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 a fast-changing world: 1960s Britain. The post-war period was seeing the values and assumptions of the previous generation being rejected, but without a coherent replacement. A new world view was being formed but 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 is impossible to separate Quadrophenia from The Who, as they composed the music and inspired the script. Jimmy himself is a psychotic symbiosis of the four members of the band: the romantic, the hard man, the hypocrite and the lunatic. Similarly it was the band that influenced – and was influenced by – the post-war culture that was being formed around them. 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.

The cast is strong: full of young exciting actors with powerful voices. An excellent set 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.

The 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 heritage. 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.

– Rebecca Hale