Theatre Review: American Idiot, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: British Theatre

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Drama
Date: June 21 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

American Idiot, as the name suggests, uses the music of American punk-rock band Green Day to tell a story, one involving three young men and how their lives changed in the aftermath of 9/11 (which several songs on the original American Idiot album referred to). Their tales cover everything from fighting on the front-line to drug addiction to romance. ┬áThis was definitely a unique show; having been advised that this would be different from any other musical, that goal was certainly achieved, although I’m not sure if this was entirely a good thing.

There are some strong aspects about this show: for Green Day fans, all of the big hits are included, including (of course) American Idiot, Know Your Enemy, Wake Me Up When September Ends and Time Of Your Life. The singing performances (from a cast that boasts Amelia Lily and Newton Faulkner) are very good on the whole, with the group rendition of Wake Me Up When September Ends being the highlight of the show. The background music consisting of fast-paced guitar and drum notes is authentic and perfect for a show of this nature.

There aren’t much in the way of dance moves for this production, so I can’t really judge this as a positive or a negative, but the acting performances, brief as they are (more on the acting shortly), are strong if a little basic at times. There are a few nice comedic touches dotted throughout the show. Rounding off the high points, the settings seem simplified but have a grungy feel to them, and at times are assisted by props to take us into a different environment, and the costumes are typical of both Green Day and their legion of followers, from the hairstyles to the style of shirts to the chain-accompanied jeans.

On the downside, the non-musical scenes are very brief, meaning that the main storyline is only partially told as what would normally be key scenes in the development of various plots are left out (and one such scene lasts two minutes with almost no dialogue, resulting in an awkwardly quiet theatre). So, one cannot really judge the acting because the performers get so little chance to demonstrate such skills. The show is a little on the short side, but without scenes that properly move the story arcs along, this isn’t really a bad thing (which actually IS a bad thing if you think about it). My main gripe with the show, though, concerned some aspects of the content.

There is a significant amount of strong language throughout, several scenes involving drug use and one extended scene whereby the lead male and female characters have sex (well, we don’t see them completely naked, but it’s more than just implied). Granted, Green Day’s songs feature a certain amount of swearing, but it carried over into the regular dialogue, and were the full-on drug and sex scenes really necessary? They were very strong, and not in a way that necessarily denigrated such behaviour in the case of the drug scenes. I’m not generally offended by such things, but it all did seem a little heavy. And whilst there were minor warnings about the content, they weren’t obvious enough as there were younger children in attendance, which can’t have been a good thing (and who knows what their parents were thinking during those scenes).

Which is not to say that this was a bad show; it definitely had its moments, and the performances were of a high standard. I would, however, suggest that there should be firmer warnings about the adult content in this show, and that more time should have been allocated to move the story along to ensure that the audience knew what was going on. This was a worthy tribute to the music of Green Day, but outside of the band’s fanbase, whether one would enjoy the show is truly down to one’s personal tastes (and age). So, a good show for Green Day fans, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable