The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
And so to The New Wolsey, for the debut of a new piece of musical theatre written, in part, by Mike Peters out of The Alarm. The concept is the familiar “We’re getting the band back together…” trope, based around the idea that Andy – the titular Oxy – has been contacted by a boutique label who want to finally release that demo tape from 1978, and want a launch gig to go with it. Andy has to round up his estranged brother, his ex-wife, and a drummer who has turned to chiropractice in order to make the show happen. Oh, and has also just been diagnosed with leukaemia.
The first half of the show features the original, young version of the band performing on an ingenious pop-up stage while the present-day version deal with the acting, the second half reverses the roles, and so we see what brought the burgeoning career of The Morons to a shuddering halt. It’s a small cast, and so there are wigs involved in fleshing out the incidental roles, including a none-more cliched record company exec (with a zeitgeistedly Weinsteinian bent) and a drunken Melody Maker hack who may well have been drawn from experience (round up the usual suspects!), but the older/younger characters blend seamlessly throughout. Hats especially off to Janet Fullerlove as the prospective Tory MP Elizabeth, formerly known as Sheena (…is a punk rocker – geddit?) and an astonishing debut performance by Milly-Grace Cutler as her bass-playing younger self.
It’s emphatically not a jukebox musical; the (presumably) newly-written songs never veer into pastiche, but really do sound like forgotten relics of the age, even if a couple do flirt with the iconography of the time a little more passionately than is absolutely necessary. They are, it must be said, performed with absolute vim and vigour. Both drummers, especially, disport themselves admirably both behind and in front of the kit.
There are a couple of missteps – a 1978 punk band wouldn’t have been anywhere near being invited to perform a Red Wedge gig, there’s a telegraphed twist in the narrative, and the closing monologue sails perilously close to the lachrymose, but these minor quibbles are quietly blown away by the absolute sincerity and intensity of the acting throughout.
It made me think..
Where’s it gone – the spirit of ’76?