Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
The tenth anniversary tour of Green Day’s American Idiot kicks up a storm – complete with an eye that isn’t so much calm as nurdling – as this Selladoor production arrives at the Playhouse for a week.
For the most (and best) part, director and choreographer Racky Plews allows Green Day’s take on the nihilism of youth to shout out loud and angsty, and kicking against pricks which can be as imagined as they are real, as she pinpoints its sense of laddish self-obsession.
Plews has a solid team of principals at her service and she uses them exceptionally well. Tom Milner is pivotal as Johnny, the lad from a broken home whose life consists of boozing and smoking with his similarly loser friends, Will and Tunny.
Lithe and almost feral at times, Milner has a strong and versatile enough voice to cope with Green Day’s muscular music. And even if his snarl is more Sid Vicious than Joey Ramone, he is more than convincing in the role of wanna-be rebellious American suburban youth.
Samuel Pope, sporting a Neil out of the Young Ones look but with a softer edge to his singing voice, is a convincing Will. When the trio are about to set off to the big city, he’s happy to stay at home when his girlfriend (the excellent Siobhan O’Driscoll) reveals she is pregnant – but not so enamoured of parenthood that he wants to give up getting stoned in front of the TV.
Equally convincing, but with a singing voice that is as sturdy as he is muscular, is Joshua Dowen as Tunny, the pal who makes it to the big city with Johnny, but who runs off to join the army.
Musically this is properly exciting stuff. Nick Kent leads the onstage band from the front on bass, blistering up some throbbing lines which, although they are loud enough to feel at times, could still be a few decibels louder, if sound designer Chris Whybrow had been up for it. The fact that they aren’t does mean that you can hear the words, however.
Green Day call this a punk rock opera and designer Sara Perks has all the iconography down pat, from the Cramps and Dead Kennedy’s T-shirts, to the Adam Ant, King’s of the Wild Frontier gold braid coat sported by St Jimmy, Johnny’s drug-dealing alter-ego (X-Factor finalist Luke Friend making a strong professional debut) – a move away from his roots to altogether more preening level of operation.
Plews bustles this along for its first half, flexing her choreographic muscles to serve the storytelling with some moves that are certainly more noughties pop that seventies punk – and which allow her to add a depth to the female characters which Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer’s book somehow forgets to do.
Sam Lavery as Whatshername doesn’t really have a great deal to do in the first half. The clue to her character is lies in her name. She’s the girl who Johnny spies in a window, falls into bed with, begrudgingly shares with and almost succeeds in admitting to loving. Not until she gets to vent her rage at her drug addled ex in Letterbomb, is she anything more than Johnny’s fantasy.
The second half hits off well enough. Tunny, now an amputee, falls into a morphine-induced hallucination delivering an impeccably timed duet – then trio – with himself and then getting out of his hospital bed to dance with his nurse who has magically transformed into a butterfly-winged fairy – Extraordinary Girl (Raquel Jones).
With Will just calling out for more dope to ease his angst, Johnny’s big drug excursion comes in an extended scene where he cooks up and injects heroin.
Thanks to the Irvine Welsh this is far from being the first such scene on an Edinburgh stage and while Milner holds the attention with impeccable focus, it all feels a bit removed reality. Surprisingly, given the generally grunginess of the set, it’s all rather clean and plastic. So that when, after the burst of the drug-high and much crawling around the set, he manages to strum out the most delicate love song to Whatsername in What’s The Time, that surface polish pulls it back.
Because, despite this being a musical – of what ever genre – it is also strangely realistic. The small-town nihilism, feckless self-regard of youth and the puffed-up junkies who have expanded to over-fill their skins all ring true.
Luke Friend and Tom Milner. Pic Mark Dawson
But above all, it is the show’s expression of the need to rebel against The Man – here epitomised in the American state gone into overdrive in the post 9-11 war on terror – combined with an inability to work out quite how to do so, that chimes as significantly now as it did ten years ago – or over the decades before that.
And it is that which this production expresses, more than anything else.
Running time: two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 February 2019
Evenings Tue – Fri: 7.30pm; Sat 9: 4pm & 8pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
American Idiot on tour 2019:
5-9 Feb 2019
0844 871 3014
11-16 Feb 2019
26 Feb-2 March 2019
0116 296 1236
5-9 March 2019
0844 856 1111
19-23 March 2019
26-30 March 2019
0114 249 6000
2-6 April 2019
0844 871 3019
9-13 April 2019
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011
16-20 April 2019
0844 871 7650
23-27 April 2019
Milton Keynes Theatre
30 April-4 May 2019
0118 960 6060
7-11 May 2019
14-18 May 2019
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646
21-25 May 2019
28 May – 1 June 2019
0844 871 7648
10 – 15 June 2019
01274 432 000
18 – Sat 22 June
His Majesty’s Theatre
The American Idiot company. Pic Mark Dawson