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American Idiot in Brighton

The tour of the high energy rock opera based on the Green Day album drops into Sussex

No, it’s not a show about Trump’s latest Twitter rants. American Idiot – on at Brighton’s Theatre Royal until Sat 20 April, has been around since 2010, is based on the award-winning 2004 album of the same name by Green Day and takes a post 9/11 setting.

Three disillusioned teens, Johnny, Will and Tunny prepare to leave the suburbs. Over the following year we follow the very different turns their lives take, getting attached to a girl and drugs in a city squat, at home as a new dad, and in the army.

That’s about as far as the plot goes. Don’t go expecting much of a storyline, rather it’s a thematic link that creates a framework for Green Day’s punk songs with the odd line of a letter or text home thrown in.

To call it a musical is misleading and it’s been more accurately dubbed a rock opera, justifying the almost total lack of dialogue between characters. I’d call it a celebrated concept album on stage – it felt like we should be treating it as a gig, on our feet throughout.

I found the lack of storyline very frustrating but there’s no doubting the quality of the performance, which earned an ovation from part of the audience on the Brighton opening night.

Sam Lavery as Whatsername

All the leads are strong singers and there’s high energy from the ensemble. Two of the cast – Luke Friend as dealer/Johnny’s alter-ego St Jimmy and Sam Lavery as Johnny’s girlfrend Whatsername are X-Factor finalists. Though I’d pick out Siobhan O’Driscoll as teen mum Heather as the vocalist who most impressed.

Waterloo Road’s Tom Milner as lead Johnny gives a strong acting performance, particularly in the more harrowing drug taking scenes and Lavery brings some menacing fun to his own character.

Tom Milner as Johnny

There’s a lot of fun with the choreography too – most memorably a dance sequence with multiple women – and men, performing pregnancy tests.

The set too is striking – grungy, graffitied and with ladders and metal gates the characters climb and descend, creating action on several levels, the on-stage band belting out from an upper level. A disgusting toilet, scene of much drug abuse and wretching, had shades of Trainspotting.

A TV screen sets the scene before the first and second act with news reports, politicians’ speeches and some disturbing angry rhetoric from members of the public creating some context. There’s good use of the screen too for fantasy sequences.

With graphic drug-taking, sex and swearing, it’s not one to take your nan to. The audience was an interesting mix – people who would have enjoyed Green Day the first time around and a fair spread of older teens.

Green Day fans will love it, of course, and it helps if you know the lyrics (from both the American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown albums) well already because in most numbers you can barely make them out. I most enjoyed the more acoustic parts when the link between words and action were more apparent.

Great music, performance and staging, just not theatre in the usual sense. Go with the right expectations and you’ll have a good night.

 

American Idiot is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, Tues 16 – Sat 20 April 2019, with tickets from £14.90. atgtickets.com

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