Trafalgar Studio 1, London SW1
Opened 18 September, 2008

Trafalgar Studio 1 is the most steeply raked theatre auditorium in London. Consequently, when the chap in front of me got out his PDA and tapped a message to show his companion, I had little difficulty in seeing the words “This is bilge”. It was ill-mannered of him to flash his screen (whatever happened to just whispering?), but unfortunately the description wasn’t entirely inaccurate.
No stage or screen drama about a rock band can escape the shadow of This Is Spinal Tap: you either have to build in a certain amount of self-parody, or take extreme care that your material can’t be interpreted that way. Andrew Upton’s play about a band reunion after ten years of separation generally tries to take the latter course, and fails. There are the character types so mercilessly pinned by Rob Reiner’s film: the girlfriend too dedicated to pushing her man’s work at the expense of his creative partner (and brother), the drummer who doesn’t get much of a look-in, the manager who has his eye firmly on the business side and is useless at personal diplomacy. (In a night of poor transglobal accents, Jeremy Sims’ Dick Van Dyke Cockney in the last of these roles takes the soggy cake.)
As an irremediable rock kid, I ought to have been able to pay more, and more respectful, attention to these goings-on: the getting-it-together in the isolated country pile, the various insecurities and abrasions, the substance abuse issues, above all the inarticulacy and over-purple prose that are so often the alternating vocabularies of rock. But I’m afraid I couldn’t. The pedant in me was working out that the numbers didn’t add up, that Riflemind the band couldn’t possibly have attained such legendary status in such a short career, wondering what kind of muso it is that positions his stereo speakers so that the optimum listening point would have him squatting on the corner of the raised kitchen floor; the sniggering adolescent in me was noting the aforementioned Tap parallels; and the grown-up reviewer was just being bored. Director Philip Seymour Hoffman gets some good interaction out of his cast in moments of camaraderie, but Upton’s script gives him far too little help. In the central role, John Hannah is appropriately gnomic and semi-detached, but that’s not really compelling. As rock reunions go, this is less The Police than Happy Mondays.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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