A white swan ride of fact and fiction

Hold the front stage: Warren Sollars surrounded by the dancing news reporters in their obligatory trilbies and trenchcoats, circa 1950

Hold the front stage: Warren Sollars surrounded by the dancing news reporters in their obligatory trilbies and trenchcoats, circa 1950

20th Century Boy

The New Alexandra Theatre

***

IT’S a fact that co-writer, director and choreographer Gary Lloyd is no stranger to show business. With a long list of West End, national and international productions to his credit and a host of glitzy TV productions, including X Factor and American Idol, he seemingly has the pedigree to deliver something special.

You would expect then that he and his team would have the sensitivity and experience to understand that when dealing with a real story you cannot blur the lines of fact just to make entertainment.

That is, however, the case with 20th Century Boy which sets out to chronicle the life and rise and fall of Marc Bolan and T Rex. This treatment of the Bolan story is both a sugar coated, often narrow and at times a depressing take on Bolan’s short but gifted life and there is a random cherry picking of facts in order to make it work.

It uneasily tries to pass those thru an X Factor type Warren Sollars in classic Marc Bolan pose with Gibson Les PaulStage musical machine reducing Bolan to a stereotype of rock and roll self-indulgence and excess. 

There are so many `Musical’ clichés in this production right down to a bevy of dancing news reporters all wearing the obligatory Trench coats and trilbies with of course pencils and note pads. Lloyd admits in his programme notes that he did not know a lot about Bolan before being asked to be involved in the project and adding a 1950s touch to this  one 1970s scene seems to prove the point.

Warren Sollars in classic Marc Bolan pose with Gibson Les Paul

The story is told thru the eyes Bolan’s son Rolan, who angry at his mother for not telling him the full story of his father’s life, returns to London to retrace his steps to fame. Once again is this fiction, did it happen? If the true facts of Bolan and T Rex are real then to mix it up with possible fiction elements just confused the issue.

It was down to the largely inexperienced Warren Sollars in the lead role to recapture the mercurial spirit of Bolan. It’s not an easy ask to convey such a dynamic personality and he only managed to truly deliver in a few of the more aggressive T Rex songs. It was clear that he does not play guitar leaving the more complex solos and fretwork to the backing band and this seemed to be a vital element missing from this central part of the show.

Donna Hines delivered a solid and professional performance as Gloria Jones, Bolan’s backing singer and girlfriend and Rolan’s mother. Luke Bailey played Bolan’s son and did a nice acting job as part narrator, connecting the many theatrical elements. However like so many of the other dramatic players he too ends up singing himself into another musical parody.

Thankfully we have the music. T Rex’s infectious rocks grooves sounded as fresh as ever and although lacking the raw energy of the originals they were a joy to hear played live. Although some of these have been rearranged to be sung by cast members it was the versions with Sollar and the band that shone thru and clearly the audience were waiting for.

Strangely the curtain call was done in silence before the band struck up and ended on a reprise of some of T Rex’s best songs in succession. Only then did the fun and energy start and the audience get to its feet.

The band numbers are the highlight of the show so I can recommend if for the music and the memories alone but be prepared at times to endure a long, dull, grey representation of Marc Bolan’s passionate and colourful short life. To 03-05-14

Jeff Grant

The long delay before the audience were allowed into the auditorium at 8pm on opening night was apparently because the production get in had been late and the staging was just not ready for a 7.30 start. 

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