Theatre Review: American Idiot at The Alhambra Theatre

RESEMBLING grotty warehouse apartments, designer Sara Perks’ platformed stage acts as visual commentary on the state of the nation in 1990’s America as war wages in Iraq and its citizens reel from 911’s aftermath. To complement this, Racky Plews’ opening direction is witty, cleverly editing segments of news bulletins to criticise Bush’s post 9/11 administration as key characters flick between TV channels displayed on a central screen above the stage.

Clad in alternative 90s’ attire the whole ensemble sing the show’s titular tune in an energetic sequence, supported by a live four-piece band. Toilet rolls are petulantly thrown as characters sing “I don’t care”, encapsulating the apathy the younger directionless generation felt. Written collaboratively by Green Day’s very own Billie Joe Armstrong with writer/director Michael Mayer, the show’s very loose plot centres around three disaffected friends from this very generation: Tunny (Joshua Dowen), Johnny (Tom Milner) and Theo (Glenn Adamson).

Focusing on the different trajectories their lives take the show sees Tunny enlist, Theo remain in their small hometown to support his pregnant girlfriend and Johnny hit the big city, seeking fame as a musician. Johnny’s narrated messages home give the story a time frame and much of it is from his perspective or that of his rebellious alter-ego, St Jimmy (Luke Friend).

American Idiot takes more of a rock-opera format in a similar vein to The Who’s Tommy with very little dialogue and song lyrics with accompanying action progressing the narrative, sometimes rather ambiguously. Most songs, of course, come from Green Day’s concept album American Idiot and the follow-up album, 21st Century Breakdown, but some rare B-sides are included too. Acoustics of “Give me Novocaine” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” are impressive with a powerful duet in the latter. Dowen singing “I was only dreaming” from “Before the Lobotomy” includes some powerful, if somewhat confusing, accompanying choreography, leaving us to ponder whether the Angel of Death has visited his hospital bed or whether he’s suffering from morphine hallucinations. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” includes rousing harmonies as autumn leaves float onto opened umbrellas.

Despite fairly dark subject-matter, American Idiot is so full of energy it feels upbeat, making the final anticlimactic ensemble reunion “Nobody Likes You/Everybody Hates You” from “Homecoming” even more disappointing. Perhaps mindful of this empty and unsatisfying conclusion, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” follows playing us out to standing ovation.

American Idiot is undeniably slick, fun to watch and boasts a brilliant cast but the show potentially lacks longevity with its limited fanbase and plot, occasionally feeling like watching a series of live music videos with some songs shoe-horned in. If it has a message, it seems to be a bleak one, leaving us to ponder who the true American idiot really is - the druggie rock-star wannabe, the soldier, the juvenile father or those controlling the country?

Leo Owen