Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: '27: The Rise of a Falling Star' at the Cockpit Theatre, 12th September 2016

27: The Rise of a Falling Star feels like the kind of musical an evangelical baptist church might put on to scare the kids away from sex, drugs and rock n' roll. It is a rare and fascinating brand of dreadful: as badly conceived and written as it is performed. 

Now trust me, I don't take that much pleasure in coming at a show with teeth bared. Think of me as an experienced rural vet that's been called to attend to a horse with a broken leg. I look down at the stricken beast: foam flecks its mouth, flanks are wet with sweat and it wheezes horrifically. As I gaze into the panicked brown wetness of its eye I solemnly remove my pistol from its holster, aim it at the centre of its skull and blow the poor bastard's brains out.

It may look cruel, but it's necessary. This godforsaken rock musical deserves the same treatment.

Named for the '27 Club' of dead musicians, the show follows the fortunes of Orpheus (Greg Oliver), lead singer of The Argonauts, a band hungry for megastardom. Thanks to a deal with the devil, they get it. Orpheus then becomes a screwed up drug addict, alienates his bandmates and his nice girlfriend Amy (Cassie Compton) overdoses. He then takes a quest through the underworld to retrieve her and... Ah bollocks to it, I'm almost as tired of typing up this garbled gaggle of cliches as I was watching the damn thing.

The core of the show is the romance between Orpheus and Amy, which they warble about at length to each other. It's brutally hamstrung by a number of simple factors. The prime one is that Orpheus is an unlikeable, uncharismatic and apparently talentless dick. Even before his ego swells it's a mystery what Amy sees in him. Then again, Amy isn't really a character at all, she's an anonymous feminine prize for the men in the play to moon after. Having your female lead entirely defined in terms of her relationships with men is really disappointing these days (not to mention unceremoniously killing her off during the interval, further literalising her as a prize to be won). 

The rest of it feels exceedingly over-familiar. The satanic record exec thing is played out, the intra-band conflicts are dull and the eventual supernatural trek through the underworld is both visually naff and mythologically jumbled. As if to rub salt into the wound, in the final scenes one of the characters reflects "well, it's a good story". Mate. It really wasn't.

Musically, 27 wouldn't know rock n' roll if it bit it in the arse. I've heard episodes of The Archers with more of a rebellious streak and sense of devil-may-care danger than this. Much of this is down to a songbook liberally strewn with mushy ballads where the characters wail their little hearts out about their feelings, while demonstrating none of them in their performances. I feel duty bound to point out that there's also a bit where the show mangles its way through a rap number, which smashes traditional standards of good and bad so thoroughly that it ends up feeling like a Dadaist experiment in music.

Perhaps most emblematic is that this is a rock musical about a band making it to the heights of stardom AND WE NEVER HEAR THEM PLAY A FUCKING SONG. I mean... did no-one notice this in rehearsals? Granted, given the musical standards of the rest of the show I have no doubt that if they did play a song it'd be awful, but dammit, at least try.

This extends right into the ridiculous way in which the show treats drugs use. The characters talk about drug use in terms of: "one bad trip, that's all it takes...", sounding like a vicar solemnly warning a Sunday school about the dangers of getting high. By the mid-way point, our lead character is frantically sniffing, rubbing his nose and generally acting like someone who's only heard about drug use through an elaborate game of Chinese whispers. 

Enduring this while dancers wave plates of mind-altering substances in front of you is like taunting a dying man in the desert with an ice-cold glass of water. I found myself lost in hazy fantasies of solidly packing my sinuses with the finest uncut cocaine, a glassy smile on my face as I imagined that one perfect smack spike, all cued up to wrap me up in a blissy/fuzzy duvet and send me far far away from the Cockpit Theatre.

Sadly it was not to be. I watched two and a half painful hours of this shite. The mind boggles when you imagine how much time, money and talent has been squandered bringing this garbage to life. 27: The Rise of a Falling Star might be the most dispiriting theatrical experience I've had in four years of theatre criticism.

27: The Rise of a Falling Star is at the Cockpit Theatre until 22nd October. Tickets here.

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