“You’ll hate it!” is all I heard from anyone who discovered that I planned to see this stage adaptation of a 2004 album by the American rock band Green Day. Do they think I’m too old for it? Well, having now got my belated introduction to Green Day, I feel obliged to point out that the band merely picked up a baton previously held by Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bon Jovi, etc, etc and ran with it. This sort of stuff was invented by my generation – oh yes, don’t forget The Who too. The music has edge, it has bite and, given a choice between this and the bland pop of Bend it Like Beckham, I’ll go for this any day of the week, green or otherwise. Bringing it to the stage is all about finding a concept that fits the music and the show is given a dystopian feel by Sara Perks’ two-levelled, cave-like set and indeed by the distinctly non-glam Arts Theatre itself. The time is 2001/02 in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and television clips suggest that the 43rd POTUS could, very aptly some would say, be the title character; in fact this turns out to be Johnny, a young, rebellious New Yorker who, like his city and his country at that time, is disorientated and struggling to gain a toe hold in a new reality. The story takes the form of a post-apocalyptic odyssey, giving glimpses of war in Asia and drug-induced nightmares. Aaron Sidwell as Johnny, on stage almost throughout, dominates the show with an electrifying performance; Amelia Lily, first seen as if a princess locked in a tower also does well as the girl Johnny wins and then, like an idiot, loses. Lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong is co-writer (with Michael Meyer) of a book that is sketchy and does little more than link the rock anthems together; in a show that runs for only 105 minutes (without interval), perhaps there could have been room for more character and story development to make it all more memorable. As it is director/choreographer Racky Plews’ production has vitality and imagination in abundance, matching the throbbing intensity of the music. The show is a refreshing change from standard West End fare and, with top-priced tickets costing less than half what theatres just around the corner are charging, it’s a real bargain too.
Performance date: 21 July 2015