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QUADROPHENIA (Hippodrome)

21-05-2009

Quadrophenia

The musical of the movie of the album. Terry Wills gets on his Vespa to check out a premiere at the Hippodrome.

“It’s a mixture of quite dark stuff but also very effervescent light stuff reflecting the Mod era. It’s a great mix. It’s really quite difficult to portray on the stage. It’s quite complex”

Not my words but those of Pete Townshend. The inspiration behind the decision to bring to the stage what’s been termed ‘The Iconic Rock Opera’

As the programme states he wrote both the music and lyrics for the album ‘Quadrophenia,’ released in1973. This was subsequently turned into a film in 1979 and now bringing the story up to date it’s started on a gruelling nationwide ‘non-stop’ tour to give those unfamiliar with the story a flavour of the 1960s.

A period when the youth of the day demanded freedom to express themselves in their own chosen way.

It’s set in London. The era of the ‘Swinging 60s. Carnaby Street. Outrageous fashions. Pop a few pills as a matter of course. And if anyone dares challenge their chosen life style on their own head be it.

And that means when the Mods and Rockers declare ‘war’, the climax sees the two diverse cultures clashing in a series of confrontations and fights in various South East seaside resorts. Most notably over a Bank Holiday weekend in Brighton when outbreaks of violence made national and worldwide headlines.

We’re introduced to the central character Jimmy. A Mod who lives at home with his parents. The father is an outright bully never hesitating to raise his fists not only to Jimmy but also to his long-suffering wife.

The romantic side of Jimmy is desperately seeking a girl to call his own while also having to live with his parents unhappy home life. Can he, is he, strong enough to solve these problems? He wants to fight back against his own acknowledged character weaknesses but he feels he has little option but to go along with them.

And that sums up the opening words of Pete Townshend. “It’s really quite difficult to portray on stage. It’s quite complex”

And that’s confirmed as four different actors play the pivotal role of Jimmy. Each in turn, when the story demands, showing both Jimmy’s dark and bright sides. There’s Jimmy ‘The Romantic’ Jimmy ‘The Hypocrite’ Jimmy ‘The Lunatic’ and Jimmy ‘The Tough Guy’.

Confused already? If so you’re not alone. In post show chats with fellow audience members everyone agreed it was difficult to follow a storyline without dialogue, and sang against a background of a 10-piece rock band.

At times Jimmy wistfully reminiscences far happier times. Devoted loving parents. Childhood days out at the seaside. Lapping waves as the tide came in. Bucket and spade happily playing on a sandy beach. Where did it all go wrong?

All these portrayed in scenes that helped explain just why Jimmy becomes confused, angry and frustrated. Suffice to say, he does meet the girl of his dreams, but whether he can hold on to her is another question.

He rebels against his father’s constant bullying, his lunatic side or was it his Tough Guy side (?) extracts revenge, and he’s more than happy to vent his growing rebellious streak on life as he sees fit.

Which side of his four characters wins in the end is open to debate but in saying that the appeal of ‘Quadrophenia’ doesn’t lie in the storyline of new musical. (Indeed if I had to put a new name to the show I’d be sorely tempted to call it ‘Dr Jeckyl and his three Mr Hyde’s’.)

It’s the original compositions of Pete Townshend that will draw those who appreciate his music to judge for themselves whether or not the transition has been a success.

Not being a Rock fan in the accepted sense of the word, although I can recall the sense of freedom surrounding the era, most of the music had passed me by. But in saying that there is a mix of plaintive wistful songs mixed with pounding sounds so prevalent and popular at the time.

Certainly, even for a non rock fan, I felt the final number, sung by Jimmy, ‘Love reign O’er Me’ succinctly summed up the spirit of ‘Quadrophenia’.

Powerful, moving, full of expression, as the curtain slowly lowered the audience roared their appreciation.

Jimmy ‘The Romantic’ is played by Ryan O’Donnell, Petite, 17 year old Sydney Rae–White is the Girl of his dreams in a role far removed from her West End debut as Cossette in Les Miserables followed by lead roles in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’

Dad is John Schumacher. Mum Kirsty Malone. Both expressing their respective roles with suitable anger and cowering fear in turn.

Indeed all of the youthful cast play significant parts, while devotees of rock music will appreciate the music and lyrics of Pete Townshend even though at times a lower volume would have made it easier to follow the story.

As the cast took their final bows. From those original, still devoted fans, of the era standing to applaud, came the chant of “We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, we are, We are the Mods”

The success or otherwise of Quadrophenia lies naturally in the hands of those who fondly recall those liberating days of nearly 50 years ago.

They have their memories, they still have the fashion of the day, and on the opening night parked outside the Hippodrome was the magnificent sight of around 40 pristine scooters, complete with mirrors and lamps that left many looking on, taking photographs while recalling their own personal memories of the days when they were a common sight on our roads.

Chatting to one delighted Mod when I enquired what value he placed on his Vespa he proudly replied “Six and a half thousand quid. But I wouldn’t sell it for the world it means too much to me and it’s the reason I’m coming to see the Show”

If others replicate that feeling then the success of ‘Quadrophenia’, not only at the Hippodrome, but also around the country seems assured.

Quadrophenia runs until Saturday May 23. Details at birminghamhippodrome.com/

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