The crowd roars – that unmistakable, adrenalising sound of thousands of fans united in eager adoration of their heroes. One can imagine the vast sea of faces stretching from the crush at the front of the stage to the far reaches of a cavernous stadium…
Meanwhile, in the more intimate environs of the King’s Head Theatre before a few dozen polite punters, rock star Jack (Charlie Purbrook) takes to the stage. He looks the part in shades, leather(ish) jacket and white t-shirt, and poses convincingly. He’s joined by similarly convincing co-singer Mara (Emily Sawtell) while keyboard player Billy (Will Mugford) is a meeker presence behind them. The singers strut their stuff crooning “When we sing together, we can win together…” but when Mara approaches Jack for a kiss he rebuffs her and strides offstage.
It emerges that Jack’s in a confused emotional state because Mara revealed she’s pregnant just before the start of their gig, throwing him off his stride. We then flashback to earlier days when Jack and Billy wrote and sang the songs together, until their manager Alistair (Olly Medlicott) convinced them to recruit a female vocalist because their chances of success were hampered by a male duo being regarded as “a bit gay”.
So Mara joins the band, fame and fortune beckon, and sparks of attraction fly between Mara and Jack, who’s also been in more than a songwriting partnership with Billy. This love triangle causes Billy to leave the band, and the succeeding complications include legal threats over contractual rights to their music, a slide into drug abuse for Jack, and soul-searching all round until a redemptive conclusion.
As you can probably tell, the plot deals in some familiar dramatic and musical tropes rather than seeking something original to say about relationships and the impact of success on aspiring artists. But these archetypal plot beats are capably structured and the production doesn’t feel hopelessly clichéd.
Musically, the songs are rather pretty soft-rock numbers, nicely arranged and melodious. The lyrics are less commendable – there’s hackneyed talk of flying high and being free, and straight-faced hymns to destiny and authenticity. It’s quite good fun playing Predict the Rhyme, though, and a satisfaction in being sure that once you’ve heard a word ending in “art” then “heart” must be just around the corner. None of the cast are particularly interesting singers, which is a shame as some characterful vocals could inject an extra dimension into the songs – of which there are too many, dragging the playing time out somewhat.
Acting-wise, they’re all fine if unremarkable. There’s an absence of chemistry between them, particularly the lovers, but they do each possess a certain amount of charm, which goes a long way to save the production from irritating. And Awful Alistair the panto villain manager could probably make a tidy living as a David Cameron lookalike if times get really hard.
The show’s press release claims the story focuses on “bi-erasure”: people in the public eye concealing the non-hetero side of their sexuality. But it’s not a theme that’s explored with any real insight – beyond Alistair’s early “Gays – urgh!” slur and Mara getting angry that Jack didn’t tell her about his bi orientation, sexuality isn’t addressed at all. Perhaps if the production had been specifically set in a homophobic age or environment something could have been made of this theme, but writer Medlicott doesn’t give any indication that we’re not in the here-and now.
So I shan’t be raising a bellow of wild enthusiasm in favour of this production, as a true fan would. But there are enough positive elements here to earn it a friendly cheer.
Written, directed and produced by: Olly Medlicott
Rockstar plays at King’s Head Theatre until 15 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.