Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court Theatre
“Take me to the distant past; I want to go back...” Everything Everything. Pre-show music for our hero, perhaps, a rock-star rake who ends up wondering how he fetched up here – in debt and in disgrace, too famous to live a normal life.
Fame as Faustian pact, rock god losing it; they're not exactly original ideas, and this play, a 2014 work from Simon [Curious Incident] Stephens sometimes loses its way. But it's given a bold, in-yer-face outing by CTW, on a thrust stage, dramatically lit, with a suggestion of an arena rig behind the action. White noise, not rock music, links the many scenes.
Paul, fronting a 200-gig tour with crowds of 50,000, is not a sympathetic character, with his mood swings and his ocular cocaine habit. Insecure, lacking any inhibition, he comes across as repellent, cruel, soul-less and egocentric. We never hear him sing, and look in vain for the charisma that attracts his fans. He's given a typically gripping performance by James Christie: his confession to his old friend and musical partner Johnny [Tom Tull, in a nicely grounded performance] is painful to watch – especially so close-up – as he begins to crack under the pressure. Effective duologues with David his agent and his impecunious father, and a demanding tour-de-force, though perhaps too articulate for this offensive, foul-mouthed bully.
Laura Bradley shines as the star-struck mathematician Jenny who finally turns on her hero. Jennifer Burchett is excellent as the tragic Marnie, as well as Marnie's mum and Nicola the groupie. Jade Flack makes the most of the expat interviewer and other characters, including one of the Babylon whores whose surreal interrogation of the singer is perhaps an early sign of his breakdown. Echoed in Act Two by the aggressive questioning in the nick.
Ian Willingham paints an impressive gallery of characters: the agent, Paul's old dad, the maecenas who likes Halliday …
Birdland is directed for CTW by Ian Willingham and Danny Segeth.