Sunday, 5 May 2013

Rooms: A Rock Romance - Finborough Theatre - Saturday 4 May ****

Firstly a note of caution for those of you who, like us, enjoy their drama heightened by a wee dram. Not only is there no interval in this European premiere of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon’s 2000 rock romance, but the pub part of this pub-theatre has gone into administration, so libation is hard to come by. We turned on our heels and scooted back to Old Brompton Road for a quickie in the Coleherne before curtain up (my first time, but Mrs Front Row Dress let slip that she’d enjoyed many a quickie in there in her younger days).

It’s 1977 and two Scottish songwriters, shoe-gazing bedroom balladeer Ian and “Glasgow’s answer to Barbra Streisand” (© her dad) Monica are thrown together as guns for hire to write a song for a bisexual’s Bat Mitzvah, creating the ultimate outing song with Scottish Jewish Princess. A will-they-won’t-they storyline rapidly emerges as they win a local talent show and move to London. Forming bandwagon-hopping plastic punk band The Diabolicals, they score a number one single with All I Want Is Everything and end up in New York’s CBGB’s as part of a Rip-Off records package tour. Ian loses his guitar, his ambition and his girl and returns to his beloved Scotland for some soul searching, leaving Monica holding the baby.

Alexis Gerred’s Ian, doleful eyes peeking out from beneath a floppy fringe and a cute cap, is a sensitive soul, happy to stay in his room dreaming and drinking himself into oblivion. Cassidy Janson’s driven Monica is prepared to do whatever it takes, including bulimia, to ascend the greasy pole to success. Janson’s is a powerhouse portrayal, more Bette Midler’s C.C. Bloom than Streisand, and utterly believable as a fame-hungry woman prepared to sacrifice artistic integrity in her pursuit of the prize. While her accent sometimes takes a detour via Dublin, that is easily forgiven when she fills the room with her impressive, expressive vocals. Gerred’s Ian is a lovely foil to Janson’s enormous personality and voice. If not quite convincing as an alcoholic, his fear of the limelight is the perfect counterpoint to Monica’s gritty determination.

The inevitable happy ending and a New Song for Scotland has Mrs Front Row Dress, whose very existence is the result of a highland fling, dabbing her eyes with her tartan handkerchief as thoughts of the misty weather and mountain top heather have her pining for the old country. Mind you the nearest I’ve ever found her to a Scottish mountain is sliding down a snow covered Bank Street on a Broons annual to get to the Cathcart before chucking out time.

The on-stage four piece band is terrific, tackling tender acoustic numbers and some out and out rockers with equal vigour. Philip Lindley’s set of metal door-frames, rough hewn planks and back lit windows is a master-class in creativity on a budget.

Director Andrew Keates, fresh from many a triumph at the Landor and making an unscheduled appearance as Rip-Off Records' head honcho, gives us a spirited 90 minutes with some inventive touches (the band donning Kippahs for the Bat Mitzvah scene being one). Paul Scott Goodman’s contemporary songs and punk pastiches allow Alexis Gerred and Cassidy Janson to convincingly tell the story of a rocky romance, but it is Janson’s larger than life Monica that resonates above all else.

Booking until 18 Mar 2013, a spirited rocky romance - Rooms

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