If you’re unfamiliar with US punksters Green Day you might be forgiven for thinking this was a topical Trump based musical but no, it’s another moronic president (let’s face it a Trump win looks more likely by the day), George ‘Dubya’ Bush, rather than the world’s most famous combover that the band had in its sights on the original album and single it spawned way back in 2004.
Ambitiously conceived as a punk rock opera American Idiot focuses on three disillusioned young men from the fictional Jingletown, USA, each of whom takes a radically different path through life, fatherhood, joining the military and getting off their face on drugs. Frustrated with the general state of their nation (no change there sadly) and lives the three, Will, Johnny and Tunny, resolve to escape Jingletown and head off for the big city but Will’s girlfriend Heather drops the bombshell that she’s in the family way and he decides to stay behind. The other two hit the road and Johnny ends up taking heroin, unleashing an alter ego known as St Jimmy, whilst Tunny does his bit for Uncle Sam and enlists with predictably dire consequences. That’s the basic plot, conveniently set up to incorporate the original album’s songs without too much awkward shoehorning.
Of course the original source material’s pretty awesome with the title track itself, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Wake Me Up When September Ends and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) arguably amongst some of the best songs of the noughties and this particular cast, to borrow a suitably American phrase, knock every single number right outta da park. From the titular opening number there’s enough energy on stage to power Jingletown itself with some particularly energetic muscle tearing brain damage inducing punk rock thrashing about that'll make you want to tear up the theatre seats and join ‘em onstage. Hell yeah, now that’s an opening. American Idiot’s made for a theatre like the Northcott too. Relatively intimate with no raised stage and a sound system that’s capable of making your vital organs vibrate like they’re in a food mixer you’ve got an immediate connection with the action that’s almost impossible to achieve in a bigger venue so even if you’ve seen American Idiot a dozen times you won’t have experienced it like this.
There are some West End worthy performances too, with Amelia Lily as Johnny’s feisty but caring love interest Whatsername (that’s actually the character’s name by the way...I’m not losing my marbles) and Lucas Rush channelling his inner Keiths (Flint, Allen and Moon) as Johnny’s wickedly self destructive alter ego St Jimmy.
Making, as far as I’m aware, his professional acting debut singer songwriter Newton Faulkner was a revelation with some beautifully nuanced moments, notably Act 2’s drug taking scene, painful to watch but wordlessly capturing the loneliness and desperation of addiction which ain’t easy without making it all seem a little OTT. Almost unrecognisable after chopping off his trademark dreads for a recent video he does a pretty good ‘dude’ accent too.
Of course his vocal talents are what he’s best known for and in particular he gives some of the more reflective songs like Boulevard of Broken Dreams a vulnerability that even gives the original a run for its money (by a convenient twist of fate Newton’s first group was a Green Day covers band too, not a lot of people know that...unless they look at Wikipedia...but that’s cheating).
Like all great shows – and this is a real belter – the whole cast perform their socks off though (actually that’s the one item of clothing that Newton’s left with for part of the show but you get the point) backed by a proper kick ass live band that’s worth the price of a ticket on their own.
Sell your granny (too much...okay, maybe just pawn her for the night then) and go see this show right now, you’re guaranteed...oh go on then it’s predictable as hell but let’s just say it anyway... the ‘time of your life’.
American Idiot is on at Exeter Northcott Theatre until Sunday May 22nd. Tickets right here (grannies not accepted as payment...).
All photos courtesy of Darren Bell.