American Idiot, review of Green Day's musical at the Arts Theatre
Not quite the time of your life, but something unpredictable and almost powerful.
The whiff of anarchy and stench of rebellion is certainly in the air at the Arts Theatre which has welcomed back Green Day's American Idiot for an extended summer run, following a UK tour and previous London sit down. This 2010 musical, based on the concept album of the same name attempts to 'stick it to the man' in a post-9/11 America, where the disaffected youth escape the suburbs in search of themselves, taking in new relationships, babies and heroin along the way.
As a rock concept musical it owes a lot to shows such as Hair, which similarly explores themes of disaffected youth fighting for their country in a war they don't support, with a minimal linear narrative for which the songs can hang off. Those expecting a jolly jukebox musical may find themselves disappointed, but it's a show that should speak to not only fans of the fantastic album but also those who enjoy their musicals with a little 'bite'.
The major flaw of the show is Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer's book which is unclear, trite and deeply unfunny. Not only is it fully dismissive of women, this revolution is crying out for a female voice to broaden the otherwise 'angsty' and exclusive boys club. It takes almost an hour for Amelia Lily's 'Whatsername' to open her mouth, something she's not allowed to do until she has laid on a grimy bed and serviced her man. She first appears like a damsel atop a filthy urban tower, suggesting she is saved by Newton Faulkner's fundamentally flawed and quite dislikable central figure.
Racky Plews' production ramps up the volume and the energy, keeping her cast in constant motion and blasts through the Green Day hits that segue seamlessly from one to another. She handles the issues with the book ably, although some breathing space between numbers may help some of the narrative land and enhance the storytelling, that at times is too impressionistic for its own good. She handles the space well, creating some impressive visuals to accompany the less lucid moments.
The whole thing is so loud that it becomes barely audible, lyrics are completely missed in the dress circle, with only the softer numbers being understood over the exceptionally talented band. It's a real shame, as not everyone coming to the show will know the score backwards, and Armstrong's lyrics are often full of surprising satire and dark wit that deserve to be heard.
It's a sad sign of the times that the musical feels so dated, as though frozen in time as a reaction against one in a long list of America's modern problems. The rebellion however never feels authentic, the behaviour screams petulance and feels totally self-indulgent. For all the big talk, the heroin and the confusion, you know they're the type of characters who will run straight back to their trust funds and Ivy League scholarships once their summer of fun has fizzled out.
The most political moments come before the show begins, with footage of George Bush and 9/11 playing against an anarchic sewer setting that's enough to get your blood boiling and willing for a powerful challenge against the oppression, but sadly I was never fully convinced. Not quite the time of your life, but something unpredictable and almost powerful.
[For our previous review of American Idiot from 2015, click here]