Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Quadrophenia - Manchester Opera House

Music, Lyrics & Concept:
Pete Townshend
Writer: Jeff Young
Director: Tom Critchley
Reviewer: Philippa Jenkins

‘Quadrophenia’; an album, a film and rock-opera that inspired, reinvented and affronted a generation, arrived at Manchester’s Opera House last night, and was welcomed by over 100 scooters in an organised ride out across the city.

There has certainly been a great deal of hype about this tour. In a city that holds music so closely to its heart it’s unsurprising that big names from the region had become embroiled in organising the bike ride out, after party, and generally working towards having their name associated with the production’s opening night. The atmosphere was almost that of a comeback gig. Old-school Mods mixed with young energetic wannabes, the odd local music mogul and the middle class theatre stalwarts. Anticipation was rife and it was clear that no one knew quite what to expect…

The show opened well. Loud, vibrant, already instilling a sense of yearning to belong within its audience. This group of adolescents, sharply dressed, unit
ing and attempting to come to terms with the confusion and youthful angst they felt towards the rest of society… it was inspiring. Obvious, transparent, almost naïve to the Mod movement itself, but nonetheless inspiring.

The lack of dialogue within the show quickly became apparent, and with it so did the pained melodramatic delivery of sung lines. The first half was slow to get moving. It picked up pace at ‘I Can’t Explain’ but by this point many of the purist Who fans had, I noted, begun to glaze over.

The embodiment of the main protagonist Jimmy in 4 characters; ‘the romantic’ ‘the lunatic’ ‘the tough guy’ and ‘the hypocrite’ was a clever and worthy concept in my opinion. It served to reinforce the frustration and uncertainty of the time, or as The Who themselves put it; the ‘Quadrophenia’. However it proved alienating to the portion of the audience who wanted a theatrical replica of the film.

The first half of the show focused its sights on the social context of the time, setting the scene and the mood of the Mods. There was little in the way of verbal characterisation, and one had to realign attention on the whole stage at all times to grasp everything that
was unfolding. The musicians and the vocalists can’t be faulted. Superb performances from all cast members, particularly Sydney Rae White as The Girl; her passionate performance of ‘Reign O’er Me’ was incredible. Ryan O’Donnell took the role of Jimmy the Romantic, and he was fantastic; reminiscent of Phil Daniels both in appearance and his heartfelt portrayal of the character.

The second half opened to a more celebratory tone, finding the story now in Brighton. This led to a more lively portrayal of the time and tunes such as ‘Zoot Suit’ ‘Heatwave’ and ‘So Sad About Us’ were gratefully received. The main issue to grasp as an audience member is to focus less on the narrative and less on the film. I suspect that many had been in attendance to experience something more literal; whereas the show exists as an examination of the Mod movement; the anguish in wanting to belong, and subsequently the torment in being cast an outsider.

As much as it’s a celebration of the music it’s also a damning report on the fallacies of the genre. As Townshend himself puts it; ‘the reason that rock is still around is that it’s not youth’s music, it’s the music of the frustrated and dissatisfied looking for some sort of musical panacea.’ Perhaps this could be seen as more of a reason to celebrate…? It was a thoroughly enjoyable show once one committed and became totally immersed in it. To focus on it as a narrative simply does it an injustice. In effect ‘Quadrophenia’ is far more than just a rock opera… it’s an example of social commentary supported and defended by a generation.

“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, we are, we are the Mods.”

Photos by Steve Tanner
Quadrophenia runs at the Opera House until Sat 20th June

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