Soho Theatre, London – until 19 January 2019
The annals of rock history are littered with stories about the also-rans, the ones who almost made it, and those who were left behind in the rush for stardom. Sometimes, life can be a bitch, and no one is more acutely aware of this than rock journalist and former wannabe punk star, Neil McCormick.
His autobiography has now been turned into an engaging new musical play, Chasing Bono, which has opened at London’s Soho Theatre.
Back in the mid-1970s the writer was at school with Paul Hewson and both planned to be rock and pop legends. In fact, the super-confident McCormick was completely unshakeable in his belief that he was destined to become huge. Nothing else mattered.
But fortune wasn’t on his side. Thanks to a decade of missed chances, blown deals, bad judgement and even worse luck, he never really made it. Hewson changed his name to Bono and the rest is history.
McCormick’s memoir, I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger, has been rewritten by TV comedy writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais for the stage following the success of their 2011 screen version. And it’s a charming piece, packed with cracking Irish humour and good performances.
I sympathised with the thrusting young McCormick whose cosmic nemesis always came up trumps. Growing up, we all dreamed of glittering futures and a lot of my (male) mates spent every second rehearsing and dreaming of a career in music.
Then, in 1971, we all attended a gig at a local college by a new, up-and-coming combo called Queen… and my friends all called it a day. For McCormick it was even worse.
His brother, Ivan, had been offered a spot in Hewson’s new band, Feedback – later renamed The Hype and then something called U2.
But Neil persuaded him to stay with his group for a guaranteed shot at stardom…
Chasing Bono is part rock fable, part whimsy, and part ridiculous screwball comedy with Niall McNamee playing narrator, McCormick, and Shane O’Regan doing a wry impression of Bono.
Neil, depressed at how life has turned out – though his eventual career as the Daily Telegraph’s rock critic couldn’t have been that bad – is pondering his future on top of a bridge when he’s kidnapped on the orders of a local gangster.
Denis Conway’s lovable rogue, Danny Machin, holed up in a remote farmhouse after a robbery, wants Neil to write a book about him, the “man behind the myth,” in a bid to redress the bad press he’s always getting. And the frightened writer isn’t being freed until it’s done.
But, over the course of several sessions, the tables are turned with Danny picking away at Neil’s life to reveal its chaotic shambles in all its glory.
There are some standout funny lines, like the moment Paul tells Neil that he’s changing his name to Bono.
“It sounds like a feckin’ dog biscuit!” protests the latter.
Comic and actor, Ciarán Dowd, also provides the laughs playing Machin’s clichéd henchman. He’s a hoot in the role.
Some people get the breaks and others have to settle for a life of obscurity. Of course Neil is bitter at how life has turned out. Four kids from Mount Temple Comprehensive formed the biggest band on the planet and he, after a decade of frustration, didn’t.
Occasionally you have to know when to quit.
Chasing Bono runs at the Soho Theatre until January 19.
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