Review: Quadrophenia, at Birmingham Hippodrome
at Birmingham Hippodrome
Which is Pete Townshend’s best rock opera? After seeing this I’m tempted to nominate A Quick One While He’s Away for its twin virtues of brevity and not taking itself seriously.
Tommy may be inflated but there is no doubt it has some outstanding songs. But by the time Townshend came to write Quadrophenia, his confused and confusing saga of teenage angst set against the mod movement, self-importance had definitely set in.
In this belated stage adaptation by Jeff Young, John O’Hara and Tom Critchley, some early Who classics including Substitute and My Generation have been inserted to beef up the first act. This highlights the contrast between Townshend’s mastery of the three-minute pop single and the thinner inspiration, both musical and lyrical, of his nominally more ambitious writing.
Even The Who’s debut single, I Can’t Explain, stands out for its freshness when juxtaposed with dross like The Punk and The Godfather.
Wisely, the adapters have resisted adding dialogue, simply staging their expanded version of the album in a continuous musical performance. The band, featuring keyboards, trumpet and two string players as well as the standard rock format, is installed in a two-tier scaffold at the back of the stage which can even be moved apart at one point.
There is no real plot as such, but a succession of images reflecting the frustrations of the hero Jimmy, whose confused, four-faceted personality is rooted in his parents’ loveless marriage and rejection by his father.
The young company performs with energy and enthusiasm, and as an evocation of a particular phase of the 1960s it works well enough. But you can see why the punks wanted to sweep this kind of thing away.
Running time: Two hours, ten minutes. Until Saturday.
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