Soho Theatre, London – until 19 January 2019
Based on Neil McCormick’s memoir I was Bono’s Doppelgänger, this is a touching and funny play.
“It sounds like a fecking dog biscuit,” a young Neil McCormick responds to the news that his friend Paul Hewson is changing his name to Bono in this hilarious but touching new play by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais – just one moment that highlights the level of competitiveness and disillusionment the character feels going up against a little band called U2.
Friends McCormick and Hewson both want to start up bands to become global superstars – but only one of them will make it. Flash forward to the present day, McCormick has been kidnapped by Dublin gangster Danny Machin who wants him to write a fair account of his life – but it soon turns into a counselling session in which McCormick wonders where his life went slightly wrong.
Although the audience already knows the way in which the story ends, Gordon Anderson’s production delivers plenty of warmth, sympathy and humour for McCormick’s predicament. It is cosily entertaining in the way in which it handles the subject matter but also successfully gets us thinking about how our own lives perhaps haven’t gone quite according to plan. This is particularly highlighted by Ivan’s frustration with McCormick about turning down countless opportunities that he doesn’t deem ‘good enough’.
The play is at its strongest when it concentrates on the increasing determination that McCormick has to succeed – at times causing conflict between those closest to him including Ivan and Gloria. But the decision by Clement and La Frenais to set the whole thing up with a kidnapping and a gangster seems a bit bizarre and out of keeping with what the show is really about: McCormick reflecting on his life up until the present day – it just could have been set up better.
However, despite this the whole production feels like a celebration of music featuring some lovely original songs that blend in well nicely with the story and helps to give the audience a deeper understanding of why music means so much to Neil. The songs are performed with great sincerity and pleasure by the cast, while U2’s ‘Haven’t Found What I’m Searching for’ is continuously threaded through to keep the audience reminded of Neil’s dissatisfaction.
The cast all deliver performances that are immensely likeable. Niall McNamee as Neil beautifully highlights his increasing frustration and despondency as he realises that his dreams of being a global star are far from reality in comparison to Bono’s. Elsewhere, Denis Conway is a delight as Machin a surprisingly level headed gangster who helps to analyse where Neil went wrong. It is a warm and engaging performance, complimented well with Ciarán Dowd’s slightly dim Plugger. Shane O’Regan’s Bono is the most revealing of all, capturing his transition from school boy to global star with effect.
Chasing Bono is a reflective and thoughtfully funny piece of theatre that is consistently entertaining throughout.
By Emma Clarendon
Chasing Bono continues to play at the Soho Theatre.