wed 17/04/2024

Just For One Day, The Old Vic review - clunky scenes and self-conscious exposition between great songs | reviews, news & interviews

Just For One Day, The Old Vic review - clunky scenes and self-conscious exposition between great songs

Just For One Day, The Old Vic review - clunky scenes and self-conscious exposition between great songs

Saint Bob, Mrs T and a whole lot of feelgood. Oh, and mass starvation

The Company of Just For One Day - A kiss is not just a kiss when there's lives to be savedManuel Harlan

So, a jukebox musical celebrating the apotheosis of the White Saviour, the ultimate carnival of rock stars’ self-aggrandisement and the Boomers’ biggest bonanza of feelgood posturing? One is tempted to stand opposite The Old Vic, point at the punters going in and tell anyone within earshot, “Tonight Thank God it’s them instead of you”. 

Such a reaction was obviously on John O’Farrell’s mind when writing the book for this new musical and he spikes those guns (to some extent) by using a device that is occasionally clumsy, but just about does the job. Jemma (Naomi Katiyo) is our sceptical Generation Z-er asking the awkward questions to Suzanne (Jackie Clune) who was there 39 years ago and who, with the help of sweary ol’ Saint Bob (Craige Els), provides a few somewhat perfunctory answers. At least it spares a parent too much of a grilling from a son or daughter on the way home.

So far, so dull, but, if you take the leap that this show, to an even greater extent than is usually the case with musical theatre, demands and leave your cynicism at the door, you’ll be rewarded with an evening packed with Eighties bangers, a decent complement of laughs and, inescapably, the conclusion that we did okay. Really we did. Things were different then. We bought the records and the tickets and made the pledges. We played our part. And so did Bob and Elton and er... Nik Kershaw and all the other (relentlessly white) acts. We did okay - OKAY?

From the opening chord, it’s established that this is gig theatre, music at full volume, rock’n’roll not Richard Rodgers the reference point. Two rows of singers (including Tamara Tare and Olly Dobson pictured below) under stadium lights belt out the bit that’s left out of the show’s title and which nails its ethos to the mast “We can be heroes…”. 

But there’s no Bowie, in those terrible Eighties clothes he favoured, to be seen. Instead director, Luke Sheppard, ushers forward a sound technician and an assistant producer, representatives of the vast numbers of faceless and forgotten workers who got the show on its feet at Wembley Stadium. This is Live Aid as hard work and human gestures.

Cue a series of scenes punctuated by songs (more accurately, snippets of songs) that chart an unlikely teenage romance, Bob Geldof’s badgering and bullying and a report or two from Amara (Abiona Omonus), on the ground in Ethiopia amongst the teeming, dying masses. It just about holds together, but it’s all very clunky.The narrative really sparks when O’Farrell leaves behind the need to explain and justify and simply goes for the funny bone, attacking his old bête noir, Mrs Thatcher (a show-stealing Julie Atherton). Mr G and Mrs T indulge in a Hamilton-Jefferson style rap battle over taxing Band Aid’s income and cross swords again later as Thatcher sings, as she once did on Spitting Image back in the day. It’s highly satisfactory to see the ex-Prime Minister worn down having been met by her equal in the stubborn refusal to accept No for an answer. 

As in real life, a little Geldof goes a long way and, while we acknowledge the extraordinary drive he showed to push and push and push the project forward, there’s a certain sense of relief when Freddie does his bit, Phil Collins is in the air tonight over the Atlantic and the end is in sight. 

For all its stop-start narrative threads, its Centrist Dad political stance and its inevitable ladling on of the nostalgia, younger audiences will learn much about an iconic moment in British history and older audiences will enjoy the songs. Maybe, too, they’ll allow themselves a little inward glow that, dodgy optics notwithstanding, reflects a time before identity politics, social media and, to be fair, a more complex appreciation of geopolitics wrought such division amongst us. We did what we could because it was all we felt we could do – and that was perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. 

It might be nice to get that simple, flawed clarity back, even just for one day. 

The narrative really sparks when O’Farrell leaves behind the need to explain and justify and simply goes for the funny bone

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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