Music, Lyrics and Concept: Pete Townshend
Writer: Jeff Young
Director: Tom Critchley
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson
Well over 100 scooters parading outside the theatre, more than had turned out on the tour at even Manchester, Liverpool and Brighton, Quadrophenia had come to town. Southampton the ‘real home’ of the mod, who would have believed it?
Never having been a mod, not having been a follower of the Who and never really having had a strong liking of rock, what was I doing at the Mayflower Theatre about to watch Pete Townshend’s ‘other’ musical. Well two hours later and I certainly knew what I had been doing, having a darn good night out, that’s what I was doing.
I jest a little bout my initial trepidation as I have actually seen ‘Tommy’ a number of times on tour and in the West End, so I knew this wouldn’t be ‘all bad’!! Quadrophenia though is far more intense than Tommy and allows a far greater array of individuals to show off their vocal talents.
When I say intense, I really do mean intense, the story does not meander one bit from the start of Act 1 right through to the final curtain and, unlike just about any other show, there is not a single line, word or song that even attempts to raise a ‘titter’. If you like your shows ‘with meaning’ this is a show for you.
Quadrophenia was the Who’s sixth album and was released in 1973. The story is set in 1964/65 southern England and features the four alto egos of Jimmy Cooper. These being Jimmy the Romantic, Jimmy the Lunatic, Jimmy the Tough Guy and Jimmy the Hypocrite. A film version was released in 1979 and the Who performed the concept album live in Hyde Park back in 1996. It was in Los Angeles in 2005 that the first staged musical version was attempted and this was carried forward, with Townshend’s blessing, by the Royal Welsh College in 2007. But here in 2009 we have the first fully fledged professional tour and the packed house at Southampton suggested things are going rather well.
The stand out performance, in amongst a host of talented youngsters, is unquestionably Ryan O’Donnell as Jimmy the Romantic. He steals centre stage both visually and vocally and even wins out in the end against his three counterparts. His rendition of ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’ in the final scene just has “star” written all over it. Simply breathtaking, his program notes mention the fact he saw the Welsh version in 2007 and left that show hoping and praying that if ever it turned into a full scale project he would be involved and, boy, did that ambition show through here.
All three other Jimmy’s are played with real style as well with George Maguire a totally believable Jimmy the Tough Guy, Jack Roth leaving you in no doubt of why his character is Jimmy the Lunatic and ‘stand in’ Daniel Curtis ensuring Jimmy the Hypocrite gets plenty of his fair share of limelight. All have quality rock voices and each get a number of chances to prove just that.
‘The Girl’ played by 18 year old Sydney Rae White also gets a first act opportunity to drain the emotions out of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and she produces a performance that is big on maturity for one so young.
Ryan Cage is the smoothest of them all in his ‘Ace Face’ portrayal and he certainly ‘struts his stuff’ with the very best. Jimmy Wathen (yes a real Jimmy) belts out ‘The Godfather’s’ numbers in a rasping voice that has a quality that fits superbly with his ‘couldn’t care less superstar’ role, dressed in a most impressive white/silver union flag jacket and matching overcoat.
The relatively simple set has a centre point focus of a wooden ‘London Eye-like’ structure that is put to great use throughout the show, especially when the lads are enjoying their day out on Brighton beach. Frances Newman’s choreography is full of short, sharp movements that home in on the cockiness of this period.
Rock fan? Who fan? Or just a fan of real talent, this is a show well worth a visit, assuming you can find a space outside the theatre to chain up your Vespa.
Quadrophenia runs until Sat 12th Sept