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A CurtainUp London Review
We flash back to the Walker's wedding with acid pink lighting and the pilot dressed in vertical half airman's uniform over the white stuff, (don't ask me why?). Mark Smith welds his dancers into an aeroplane for Captain Walker (James Sinclair) to crash land. The inevitable telegram arrives and Mrs Walker (Miranda Wilford) gives birth to Tommy in a hand held bed made of stretched sheets. Mrs Walker is courted by The Lover (uncredited but probably Danny Becker). Tommy (Ashley Birchall) appears traumatised when he sees his father accidentally kill his mother's lover. This is where the stage play differs from Ken Russell's film.
The music is relentless, full impact with little opportunity for some light and shade. It feels like the musical equivalent of strobe lighting. Uncle Ernie (John Barr) the pedophile with a phallic giant stick of seaside rock sings about Fiddling with children. This was maybe once a comic interlude with Keith Moon, but post-Saville is nasty and chilling. The appalling and demented cousin Kevin (the very scary Giovanni Spano) tormentsTommy. I though Ashley Birchall's Tommy sung very well and conveyed the emotional confusion of his reduced sensory state with "Touch Me, Feel Me". James Sinclair is also strong as Tommy's father.
The Acid Queen (Carly Burns) on press night sadly didn't have the vocal range or strength to punch out what will always be associated with Tina Turner, and her top notes were shouted. It doesn't help that her diminutive frame is dressed as a pastel coloured fairy.
The first act ends with the wonderful "Pinball Wizard" with Tommy manipulating a giant silver ball with extreme skill and dexterity. Act Two commences with the cleverly named "Underture". There have been strange things happening with a large white triangle, maybe a mirror, which becomes a larger frame for "Go To The Mirror Boy".
Although their dancing is expressive and energetic, I felt the female voices weren't strong enough for these powerful songs. The men were better at song than dance. There were sadly moments in Tommy when I might have preferred to be deaf, although not blind or dumb.
For Elyse Sommer's interesting review in the Berkshires in 2002 and a complete song list go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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