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Quadrophenia (tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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 Quadrophenia from 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.

The 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.

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 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.

- Rebecca Hale (reviewed in Edinburgh)

NOTE: The following FOUR STAR review is from the Manchester leg of this production's tour (see www.whatsonstage.com/northwest)

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.

This 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.

Jeff 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.

To 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 well.

George Maguire plays Jimmy the tough guy, and has tremendous vocal ability and illuminates the stage with menace throughout. Ryan O'Donnell is equally as good as the romantic, and Jack Roth and Rob Kendrick get the chance to shine in act two.

The 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 sketchy detail.

Kevin 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.

Sophie 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.

Sure, 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.

- Glenn Meads


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