Anger, loss and youth disenchantment – has there ever been a more apt time for American Idiot? Theatre has long been a hotbed for political activism, and Stage Musicals Society continued this tradition with their recent production of Green Day’s rock-opera. With a set peppered in posters with slogans such as ‘#BlackLivesMatter’, ‘He’s not my president’ and ‘Pussy grabs back’, it almost felt that the audience were in the midst of one of the marches. A tellingly damaged American flag dominated the stage, alongside an image of Trump’s face covered with the word ‘resist’ in neon letters: a brightly visible constant presence reminding us what we’re up against. Sound clips of Trump’s most infamous moments greeted the audience at the start of the show and during the interval – there was no mistaking that this production of American Idiot was set firmly in our current time.
The musical opened with a dynamic, high energy rendition of ‘American Idiot’, utilising its large cast to create a powerful beginning. The raw energy and passion displayed by the cast continued throughout the show and the vivacity of the production really made it stand out against other musicals. From the choreography in the group numbers to the quiet despair of the three protagonists, there wasn’t a moment when the excellent cast wasn’t giving it their all. However, it was in some of the stripped back moments where they truly shone. Edward Harrison (Will) demonstrated the strength of his voice in the haunting ‘Give Me Novacaine’; similarly, the emotion displayed by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay as lead Johnny in songs such as ‘When It’s Time’ was balanced by the humour and despair he brought out in the character.
Despite the lack of strong female characters – it seems Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer have never even heard of the Bechdel test –actresses Sarah Marr (Whatshername), Emily Taylor (Heather) and Emma Hooker (Alysha) really made the most of their roles and displayed their powerful voices. The decision to cast Paige Peddie as Jimmy – traditionally a male role – more than paid off and she shone every time she was onstage. The all-female rendition of ‘Last Night on Earth’ was one of the stand-out moments of the musical.
Many of the themes resonate more strongly today than they did when American Idiot was first performed in 2009. Centred on three frustrated young men determined to leave dead-end suburbia to find a better life and instead encountering difficulties that send them spiralling into seemingly insurmountable lows will resonate with many young people today. Tunny’s (Robert Heffer) injury whilst fighting in the army was made all the more poignant when juxtaposed with Trump’s voice mocking a war hero because he was captured. Meanwhile, Will’s isolation and descent into depression, ridiculed by the lyrics ‘nobody likes you / everyone left you / they’re all off without you / having fun’, evoked the growing sense of FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) among the Millennial generation.
However, American Idiot ended on a positive note. The protagonists each reach a peace, sending the message that, even when at your lowest, there is hope for a brighter future. The reunion of the friends at the end is a powerful reminder that we are stronger together; it is only when united that we can, indeed, resist.