The intentions in this new musical, a retelling of the Orpheus legend in the form of an 80s rock opera, are no doubt good. The title derives from the age at which Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and a worrying number of other ill-fated starlets succumbed to various rock-induced deaths, and it is clear from the outset that what writer Sam Cassidy wanted to do was produce a cautionary tale of the perils of fame and drug addiction with his own doomed hero, Jimi, a rock star who makes a deal with the devil of his own.
Sadly, “fame, fortune and the rock star life aren’t all they are cracked up to be” is not a particularly innovative theme for a show, and there is little here to divert the attention. That’s not to say that a lot of vim doesn’t go into making the show: the vocals are bright and clear, the energy high, the choreography of dance sequences tight (possibly thanks to the involvement of Strictly Come Dancing’s Arlene Philips, unexpectedly credited as co-director). But without much interesting content the piece flounders over its extensive two-and-a-half hour runtime.
Though new writing is to be encouraged, songs which include sentiments along the lines of “change the way you think about the world and you can change the world” and “am I allowed to be different” are simply disappointing for anyone who goes to see youth theatre which on the surface promises to be gritty. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem were I not bothered with certain elements that belong in the 80s with much of the rest of the show: a chorus of attractive women who present temptation for the male hero by writhing around him, a sassy gay stereotype, and, for a show ostensibly sympathetic to struggles with depression, a worryingly blasé attitude to the hero’s treating his own demise as a release.
Individual performances remain fun. Ryan Molloy’s svengalian Hades is pure energy, Cassie Compton’s love interest Amy sings with style and power and Ryan Gibb’s drummer Jason provides a pleasing moral centre to the show. Spoken dialogue is perfectly fine, with a few comic flourishes. The chorus deserves plaudits for commitment and its well-drilled physical routines.
Nevertheless, it is simply not interesting enough a take on modern celebrity culture (even the rock music feels dated, frankly). The subjects dealt with are meant sincerely I have no doubt, and addiction and self-destruction deserve to be addressed. But unless theatre has anything new to add to the conversation, it risks being self-indulgent. That is all the more potent a danger for a rock opera.
27 is playing at the Cockpit until 22 October. Tickets can be bought via The Cockpit website.
Photo: Nick Ross