Review: Tommy, by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon, until April 15

The cast of Tommy at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

The cast of Tommy at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK - Credit: Archant

Director Kerry Michael has unveiled an outstanding spectacle of a show which brilliantly displays the continued quality and the ambition of what the New Wolsey has to offer.

Foreground - Max Runham as Captain Walker in Tommy at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

Foreground - Max Runham as Captain Walker in Tommy at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK - Credit: Archant

It’s a huge, sumptuous extravaganza of a show in which 22 actors and musicians fill the stage, accompanied by the most elaborate lighting set-up the theatre has ever seen, in order to tell the story of Tommy, described by Pete Townshend in his hit song, as The Pinball Wizard.

After witnessing the death of his father in a fight Tommy retreats into himself, cutting himself off in a form of traumatised shock. Seemingly beyond the help of doctors, he comes alive when playing the pinball machine at the local youth club. In fact he is so good that he becomes a celebrity over night.

The casting of able-bodied actors alongside Deaf/disabled performers is seamlessly done. Digital displays showing lyrics and signing as part of the performance keeps everyone involved. It really does capture the spirit of Tommy and shows that Deaf/disabled actors can and should be integrated into mainstream theatre productions.

The performances are uniformly good and the standard of singing and musicianship is first-rate. Unusually for a New Wolsey show the band is on stage as a band for most of the show with only the brass players being actor-musicians.

Julian Capolei, Lukus Alexander, William Grint, Matthew Jacobs-Morgan in Tommy at the New Wolsey The

Julian Capolei, Lukus Alexander, William Grint, Matthew Jacobs-Morgan in Tommy at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK - Credit: Archant


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The staging and production design is simple and effective, making great use of polished steel surfaces, projections and atmospheric lighting to set the scene and guide you to where you should be looking. The almost sung-through show, lifted from The Who’s 1969 album, doesn’t have time to hang about.

But, its origins as a concept album also supply the weakest moments of the evening. This is a show with plenty of spectacle, some great music but it has no heart. I was willing the story to reduce me to tears. I was waiting for that killer ‘Blood Brothers’ knock-out blow but it never came.

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Nevertheless, the audience responded with a standing ovation and for performance and presentation it is richly deserved but, the show itself needs more punch. It needs a writer to inject some emotional depth to match the spectacle.

Andrew Clarke

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