Review: Green Day's American Idiot at Liverpool Playhouse ****
It’s 15 years since Green Day released their angst-infused album American Idiot, and a decade since it was first turned in to a pop rock opera.
Channelling the disaffection and disillusionment of disadvantaged youth, the ones for whom the American Dream remains just that, the music – and musical – has certainly struck a chord with its audience.
Last time American Idiot was staged in Liverpool it was in the capacious surroundings of the Empire.
Selladoor Worldwide, the production company started by two LIPA graduates in the same year American Idiot first hit the stage, has taken something of a punt by bringing this latest, densely populated, punkish touring show to the genteel confines of the Playhouse auditorium.
But actually, the tight space gives proceedings an added intensity and immediacy.
The action doesn’t so much unfold as explode on designer Sara Perks’ double-height, down-at-heel streetscape set with its chain link fencing and Keith Haring-inspired graffiti art.
Johnny (Tom Milner) and St Jimmy (Luke Friend). Photos: Mark Dawson
Johnny, Will and Tunny are three feckless friends drifting on a nihilistic sea in stifling suburbia, their world one of laddish horseplay, trash TV and soft drugs.
While Will (Samuel Pope) feels compelled to stay at home with his pregnant girlfriend, Johnny (Tom Milner) and Tunny (Joshua Dowen) escape to the bright lights of the big city where the former falls in to heroin addiction and the latter falls for the post 9/11 siren call of Uncle Sam – with devastating consequences.
There are some striking visual moments at the hands of director/choreographer Racky Plews and her cast.
They include the title number, American Idiot, with its large ensemble cast’s powerful and raw air guitar riffs, a rollercoaster bus journey, Tunny’s morphine-induced butterfly dream (Extraordinary Girl) and a graphic shooting up scene.
The leads produce some strong performances, not least Milner as the frustrated informal narrator Johnny, whose bleak descent into addiction includes the arrival of a psychotic alter-ego St Jimmy (a rip-roaring Luke Friend) whose manifestation threatens his relationship with the woman of his dreams Whatshername (Sam Lavery).
At times the central cast also wield guitars to supplement the already pounding sound of the on-stage ensemble, with Johnny, Will and Tunny coming together in the second half for an affecting, acoustic lament Wake Me Up When September Ends.
Its acoustic nature gives a clarity to the lyrics that is sometimes lost in some of the more frenetic and punchy punk pop numbers.
In all honesty, it’s not easy to really care for the trio as rounded, empathetic characters.
But as a spectacle, this American Idiot is a supercharged two hours of theatre.