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AMERICAN IDIOT – Arts Theatre, London.

American IdiotGreen Day’s 2004 Grammy Award winning album American Idiot is brought to the stage with explosive panache, and is targeted squarely at fans of the band. In the uncertainty of a post-9/11 world, three boyhood friends take very different paths in life, searching for meaning and purpose in their choices – one to drugs, one to the military, and one reluctantly to fatherhood. Although the show is packed with high-energy accomplished performances, the narrative does take a back seat. But that’s not what we’re here for. Give coherence the night off, and sit back for a riff-fuelled, foot tapping musical assault on the senses.

For those familiar with the album, everything about the show feels right: the grimy, divey, graffiti-covered set, the worn dishevelled punk-rock costumes, the battered skate shoes, the Mohawks and grown-out bleached spiky hair, the general “f***-the-world” demeanour of the ensemble, the delivery of the songs, the sound of the live band – all of it brimming with authenticity and anarchy. The creative team have definitely done their homework, and it’s a treat to have a cast on stage who can all play guitar.

Aaron Sidwell in the lead as Johnny is full of swagger, and finds every way possible to press the self-destruct button. His well-observed descent into drug addiction yanks at the heartstrings, with everyone else around him powerless to do anything. The atmosphere is tense and you can hear a pin drop as he staggers about the stage on the verge of collapse. His friend Tunny (Alexis Gerred) becomes a soldier and is injured in the line of duty, travelling from bravado to pitiful vulnerability. Last of the trio is Will (Steve Rushton), a no-hoper who makes a mediocre job of being a new parent.

The only difficulty with this show is that, with the exception of Johnny, most of characters are massively underwritten: well performed bit-parts in his story, portrayed mostly through exposition. Even love interest Whatsername (Amelia Lily) has been denied an opportunity for depth: she exudes charisma in song, but just hasn’t been given enough content beyond that. I’m all for letting the music doing the talking, but there is plenty of scope to give the characters a bit more to say between songs, and the audience more context.

The album is played in sequential order, with a few tracks borrowed from their more recent release, 21st Century Breakdown. Some of the songs do seem little over-polished with added musical Theatre harmonies, but mostly we get a pretty good replica of Billie Joe Armstrong’s nasal snarl on the more up-tempo tracks such as ‘American Idiot’, ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and ‘Holiday’. There is also great contrast in the beautifully softened tones of the acoustic ballads, highlights including ‘Before The Lobotomy’, ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ and Whatsername’, each a bewitchingly understated masterpiece.

But I can forgive the scarce writing because this is a show which knows its audience – the room is filled will fans new, old, and lapsed. So perhaps the most poignant part of the evening is a final mass sing-a-long to one of Green Day’s most iconic songs, ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). I suspect for many of us, it’s a song we haven’t played in ages, yet those lyrics are etched in memory for all time. There is a real warmth and sense of togetherness in the audience. It provokes a nostalgia trip which makes you want to go home and dust off all those old CDs which used to live in your stereo for weeks and months at a time. If you’re a fan of Green Day, you’d be an idiot to miss it.

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Reviewed 01/10/2015

By Gail Bishop

22nd July – 22nd November 2015
Arts Theatre, London, WC2H 8DP


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