REVIEW: TOMMY (Theatre Royal Stratford East) ★★★★★

Tommy is an iconic rock opera, born from the 1969 album from The Who. In 1975 it was turned into a film with a star studded cast including Tina Turner, Elton John and the members of the band. The show came to the stage in London in 1979 and gained a Broadway revival in 1992, winning a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.

This production is brought to the stage by Ramps On The Moon, a consortium of seven major theatre companies committed to putting deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work. Ramps On The Moon embed audio description, captioning and British Sign Language in all performances, making their theatre accessible to a wide audience.

Tommy tells the tale of a “deaf, dumb and blind kid”, traumatised by seeing his father murdered, who grows up to be a “pinball wizard” and becomes celebrated as a new messiah. While the story isn’t that clear, the songs carry us through with their big drums and guitar riffs.

The cast of 22 actors and musicians contains deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors, all bringing high energy to this loud performance. This version sees Peter Straker, who played the Narrator in the 1979 West End Production of Tommy, cast as the Acid Queen, a role he embraces with gusto. William Grint is wonderful as Tommy, the silent central character, conveying his emotions clearly and strikingly through facial expressions and signing. His words are sung by Julian Capolei and Matthew Jacobs Morgan in a clever presentation of the boy’s internal and external worlds. Tommy’s mother is played by Donna Mullings in a touching performance supported by the singing voice of Shekinah McFarlane. Max Runham plays Tommy’s father, a ghostly presence through most of the show, encouraging his son to “see me, feel me, touch me”.

Tommy received a well-deserved standing ovation on press night. The energy is infectious and it will send you home humming Pinball Wizard as well as dwelling on how far, or not, our treatment of disabled people has moved on.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans

Photo: Mike Kwasniak