REVIEW: AMERICAN IDIOT (Mayflower Theatre) ★★★★
Disaffected youth struggling to come to terms with life in a post 9/11 America may not at first seem like the usual fare for a musical but add in the music from Green Day’s 2004 concept album and it definitely works.
The audience is welcomed into the auditorium by video screens showing the catastrophic events of 9/11 and images of the response by the US authorities, so we have an immediate sense of place before the high-energy title number kicks in and we are inside the story of three friends, Johnny, Tunny and Will and their search for a better life outside of Small Town, USA – which for Will, never even begins.
This production by Selladoor celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Broadway show and is excellently staged on a sparse, graffitied set, which has lots of little details to pick up on and serves as a wide variety of locations including a 7-11 store, a club and a bus. The set had room for the band to be on stage throughout, allowing for some great interplay between the cast and the band.
Tightly choreographed dance routines support the high-spirited songs and the slower numbers are a welcome chance to take a breath.
The slower numbers were also perfect for the lead actors to show their skills both vocally and with instruments with ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ being a high point. Coming near the end of the show, it was a poignant number that was played very well and Joshua Dowen as Tunny was incredibly moving, both in this song and throughout.
This tour has been sold quite extensively on the casting of Tom Milner (Waterloo Road), Luke Friend (The X Factor) and Sam Lavery (The X Factor) which brings up the debate, again, of whether casting reality show contestants is a stunt, or whether it brings a more diverse range of people into theatres – whatever your opinion on that debate, these three actors are able to show their obvious talent throughout the show and Luke Friend was particularly good as a simultaneously sinister and charismatic St Jimmy.
If I had to point out negatives in the show, the primary one would be that the female characters are not especially well-developed which is not the fault of this production, but more that the story has not aged as well as it might. Apart from one – albeit fantastically rage-filled – number, Sam Lavery does not have a great deal to do as Whatshername and Will’s girlfriend Heather (Siobhan O’Driscoll) seems to exist only to thwart Will’s plans to leave home by announcing her pregnancy.
There are multiple trigger warnings for this show, including drug use, self-harm and suicide but all of these things are absolutely integral to the show and Tom Milner’s almost silent portrayal of Johnny’s drug use is a very brave choice for the director and for a young actor.
The auditorium during this performance was filled with fans – judging by the amount of Green Day T-shirts on show – and the production gives them what they want. A first act that builds in energy and rarely lets up, then a second act which is more reflective, and the appreciation from the audience was clear.
Loud when it needs to be, but quiet at the right moments, this production perfectly and unapologetically shows off Green Day’s music performed, as it is, by a talented and committed cast who are clearly relishing their roles. It is definitely worth your time.
Reviewed by Stacey Woods
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