Photos – Dylan Evans
shake & stir know their audience. In an arts landscape that so easily slips into an ‘art-for-arts sake’ mentality, shake & stir have ferociously identified and developed an audience for their work, quickly expanding as one of Queensland’s most highly valued artistic exports.
Producing American Idiot is a significant accomplishment for the Queensland-based theatre company and one of the largest privately owned and operated theatre companies in the country. With commercial and artistic hits including adaptations of Shakespeare, Roald Dahl, George Orwell, Bram Stoker and Emily Bronte, the company have carved a powerful place for themselves on the theatrical landscape.
American Idiot continues the company’s strength in producing works of relevance and reputation, while still boldly branching out their repertoire into music theatre.
The premier of the production comes none-to-soon, a response to a politically charged Australian audience, and a celebration of the anger that has burst onto the streets of the world since the appointment of he-who-shall-not-be-named last November.
A cult hit on Broadway, the musical began in its first iteration a punk-rock album by Green Day as a response to the events of 9/11. The album was adapted for the stage by Green Day and original director Michael Mayer.
The narrative follows a group of friends, three men, angry, lost and loud. Johhny escapes into a world of drugs and rock & roll, led by the mysterious St Jimmy. Tunny leaves home with Johnny, but finds himself being called into service for his country. Will is left behind with a family to take care of; a child, a wife, and a growing jealously of his friends and self-loathing of himself.
Each musical number is transitioned through a short letter home from Johnny to his unseen parents, or to Will; it is Johnny’s journey, that the audience are willingly dragged into.
The set, an industrial wasteland contextualised with TV screens and other digital media, reflected the lost and longing of corroding suburbia, from the underground night club, to the all-too-familiar Seven Eleven Convenience Store, to a completely abstract dream of deliberate mess and mayhem.
shake & stir have presented inspired casting in the role of the tumultuous St Jimmy, with The Living End’s Chris Cheney* and Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson taking on the coveted role, once played on Broadway by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. The two Aussie rock bands are essentially Australia’s answer to Green Day; rockers that bring experience (and nostalgia) for the political anger and hope that resounds with a 90s-noughties audience.
The three lead performers, Ben Bennett as Johnny, Cameron McDonald as Tunny and Alex Jeans as Will gave strong performances – but it was the ensemble that shines the brightest in this production.
Maddison Green, Lorinda Merrypor and Christopher Scalzo in particular stole the stage whenever they were appeared and performed their one-liners; they felt perhaps more than the rest of the cast, other than Cheney, that they belonged in the world of this rock musical.
A big congratulations to shake & stir for the next big step in the company’s continued growth; this is the dawning of the rest of… well, of something.
I do encourage every-one to go out, see this production, make up your own mind and tell others what you thought.
*Please note, the night this reviewer saw American Idiot, the role of St Jimmy was played by Chris Cheney.
shake & stir theatre co and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present
music Green Day | lyrics Billie Joe Armstrong | book Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Craig Ilott
Venue: Playhouse Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Dates: 25 Feb – 12 Mar 2017
Tickets: $89 – $99