Thursday 1 September 2011

Rock of Ages @ The Shaftesbury Theatre

Sometimes you see something that is so bad, it’s actually good.

Rock of Ages is not that show. 

Instead, it’s trying to be that show.

A musical about rock music is about as oxymoronic as you can get.  To conquer this, the writers have attempted to write this as a musical parody, even utilising a ‘musicals for dummies’ book in one joke.  Maybe if they’d bothered to read it they’d have come up with a passable show.  It’s as if the show is trying too hard to parody itself, trying too hard to be tongue-in-cheek and as a result it simply isn’t funny, with the constant self-referencing becoming tiresome.

So what’s it actually about?  Who knows, besides a sorry attempt to shoehorn as many rock clich├ęs into one show as possible, camped up to the max.  The moment you enter the theatre glam-rock is squeezed into your ears and the audience are even given fake plastic lighters to hold up during the songs.  For the male cast, what little characterisation is present is horrendously obvious, whilst the female cast spend the entire show writhing around on the floor wearing very little.  Each character's narrative trajectory is predictable and formulaic.  Of course there's a black soul singer (though the vocal by no means stood up to her stature); of course the nemesis is German - what other nationality could he possibly be?

It’s all, quite simply, childish – from the unnecessarily sexual choreography, to the immature script and odd directorial decisions.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the whole creative team turned out to be a bunch of prepubescent teenage boys who spent too much time playing Guitar Hero before excreting this drivel.  Even Jack Black could do better.  There may be some special effects, but no amount of lasers and glittery confetti can cover up the fact that this was one big mistake. 

You’d expect the music to be pretty good though, right?  Wrong.  Though there are some classic Whitesnake tunes included, it’s not a particularly good selection played by a passable band.  The final number is, predictably enough, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, therefore totally relying on Glee’s popularity.

And that’s not the only element reliant on outside sources.  The casting includes comedian Justin Lee Collins and X-Factor winner Shayne Ward to draw in the crowds.  Contrary to the misleading poster, neither have especially large roles.  JLC is far less amusing than his appearances on TV and whilst Ward does have a decent voice, his acting and American accent are appalling.  Meanwhile, Simon Lipkin and Oliver Tompsett shine in their roles, despite the awkward material, whilst the female leads were totally uninspiring.  As a whole, I’d give the cast a couple of weeks before the constant straining and shouting for high notes take its toll on their vocal chords.

Despite all this, was it actually fun to watch?  Yes, but alcoholic beverages are definitely recommended.  Either that, or do what one woman on the front row did and spend the whole time with your head buried in the programme, sobbing silently to yourself.