Review – Tommy

Whether is is because Pete Townshend and his director Des McAnuff have rewritten the book of Tommy or whether subsequent rock musicals have obliterated any memory of the late seventies version except that it was exceptionally noisy and incoherent I don’t know. My own theory is that the technology has now caught up with the concept, for the new Tommy is a unique theatrical experience, with scenery that falls faultlessly into place, up, down and sideways (John Amone), superb lighting (Chris Parry), wonderfully balanced sound (Steve Canyon Kennedy) and immaculate projection (Wendall K Harrington). Or perhaps it is because McAnuff him self is some kind of genius director. Whatever, Tommy is now a thoroughly mature musical, with a moving story about the child who is traumatised into losing his sight, speech and hearing when his father kills his wife’s wartime lover, while at the same time pre serving rock music’s excitement, energy and iconoclasm. It actually gives us a sense of history in its graphic depiction of the war and its aftermath. It indulges in characterisation which, although cartoon-like, has a reality in its portrayals of Tommy himself who becomes a wizard of the pinball machine, his stiff-upperlip parents, the leering teddy boys and the fascinatingly repellent Uncle Ernie, drunkard and child molester, and sadistic Cousin Kevin. Even though the second half, when Tommy is miraculously cured and has to come to terms with the world of the sixties, is not as good as the first, Townshend’s apocalyptic vision is still something to marvel at. Apart from this, he has written some very good songs, including Uncle Ernie’s Fiddle About, lasciviously put across by Ian Bartholomew, the Acid Queen’s great number, vibrantly expressed by Nicola Hughes, the pounding Pinball Wizard and the poignant See Me, Feel Me. But the entire cast is exceptional by previous standards of the rock musical, with a fine performance in the title role by Paul Keating, Hal Fowler as Cousin Kevin, a prototype for all footbail hooligans and neonazis, and sympathetic portrayals by Alistair Robins and Kim Wilde as Tommy’s parents. There are dozens of exhilarating lightning cameos from all the other members of the company, and choreography by Wayne Cilento which is remarkably varied in style and unfailingly intelligent in its ability to catch a mood.