Youth company Shoogly Peg Productions have made a brave move here with their production of Green Day’s “American Idiot” musical show. Originally premiered in 2009, this is a story of disaffected youth and anger at pretty much everything around them as told through the music of Green Day’s classic 2004 album of the same name. Our story revolves around three friends - Johnny, Tunny and Will as we follow their lives as they attempt to break out of their own small town surroundings and circumstances and head to the bright lights and big city of New York - with completely different results.
“American Idiot” is a complex and challenging work for any production company to attempt to bring to the stage and Shoogly Peg have put this production together in an incredibly short time frame. Open auditions only started in March this year with and intensive three weekend rehearsals in April, May and June preparing for the two shows at The King’s Theatre. While enormous credit must go to everyone in the cast for the huge amount of work put into this production (particularly our three lead characters), this short a rehearsal time simply was not enough for this production and it showed in many areas throughout the show, and I do wonder if a show with this level of complexity and emotional depth was a fair one to put onto the shoulders of such a young cast.
For me, one mistake was hiding the live four piece band in the orchestra pit, as this show is completely driven by the music of Green Day and songs like “American Idiot” and "Wake Me Up When September Ends". We all knew the band were there and they should have been on-stage incorporated somehow into the stage set for this production. A large background cast on stage at any time like this needs very tight direction and choreography and at times it was a bit like people just meandering across the stage. Some dance numbers (particularly the “Stars and Stripes” one) needed a lot of tightening up, but rehearsal times were obviously in short supply here. One of the more indefinable problems with tonight’s show though seemed to be that somehow that sharp cutting edge of rebellion and dissatisfaction with so much around them that only the young ever really have was not there, and with such a young cast that was a puzzle to me.
“American Idiot” is a very powerful piece of dramatic work as well as a musical, and there are many emotional levels to it, and it would be unfair to expect a cast of this age to have the performance skills required for some of these scenes, but there is also real emotion in the lyrics and the music of Green Day, and it needs to be remembered that these are not just words to a song when performed. I also never made any connection here as to St Jimmy really being a drug fuelled manifestation of Johnny’s Id. This show also is a reflection of American youth and their world, and while overall elements of that feeling of anger and frustration are universal, it is a mirror on American society and culture, and not all of these elements transfer well to other cultures (even if similar in many respects).
The work of youth theatre companies is hugely important for many more reasons than any production itself…yes it gives young people a taste of being part of a stage production and the experience of performing on stage to an audience, and I am sure that everyone involved here will remember performing at the King’s Theatre for the rest of their lives, but there is far more to youth theatre than this. Youth theatre is important not only to communities but to the personal development of the people taking part in any production on many levels, and for those reasons I am not using our usual star rating system for this production as it is just not appropriate to this show as there are performance skills at so many different levels on stage tonight. Some I hope will continue to develop their performance skills further to do more on stage work, others will realise that their skills are perhaps not best suited to the stage itself but still become involved in some way in the arts and theatre. Others may never do anything at all in this field, but the important thing is that they have participated in the experience. “American Idiot” has given everyone involved in it their own unique experience, but perhaps it was in places a bit over-adventurous to bring it to stage in such a short time frame and I would love to see (maybe with some switches to some castings) this show in a year’s time with the luxury of more rehearsal times.
Review by Tom King