From time to time on this blog, I rather deviate from the usual esoterica and related subjects, to recount or review more secular or mundane ones. Most of my writings will follow or explore a theme, sometimes I review a book, a trip, a museum visit or a play. This is one of the latter but it has no actual esoteric content. It is one of my rather simple, unpretentious (I hope) reviews of a show I attended.
In March 2018 I attended a performance of the famous rock opera ‘Tommy.’ Originally a concept album by that remarkable and highly influential band ‘The Who.’ The story was later made into a film with Roger Daltry in the lead role and featured a magnificent cameo by Elton John.
This amateur performance was by the Gatepost Theatre Company and was hosted by Derby Live at the Guildhall Theatre in Derby. Featuring an exceptionally large cast of varying ages, it was performed with considerable gusto, with minimal but imaginative sets.
The title role of the young and mute Tommy was taken by the angelic Harrison Ince, who despite his tender years was able to portray a complex role almost entirely through posture. His remarkable appearance that expressed absolute innocence, whilst being adrift in a world beyond his childhood comprehension, was emphasised throughout the show. In particular and obviously during those references to the wicked Uncle Ernie, a deliberately distressing but vitally important element of the show.
Today we know that ‘Tommy’ has autobiographical elements of importance and the scenes referred to above, are stark reminders of Pete Townsend’s own tragic childhood abuse. The part of Ernie is clearly a difficult one and furthermore, unsavoury for any actor. It was played with care by Simon Owen.
In the wrong hands and played without care, such scenes and the related musical numbers, would be distasteful in the extreme. Done well and correctly, as they were by Gatepost, they disturb but elicit justifiable sympathy for the innocent child who is victim to abuse, cruelty and bullying throughout the show.
It is simplistic to dismiss Tommy as a superficial entertainment, lacking in substance or depth. It is entertainment with meaning, emotions and complexities hidden within melody. Nor are the characters once on stage, lacking in development or undeserving of study. The mother played ably by Kirsty Vastenavondt shows tragic pathos in a traditional Greek sense, as she balances the love of her child, that of her second husband played by Daniel Collington and the guilt over the death of her first husband played by Chris Collington.
The Collington family appear to have rather taken over this show, a third member Simon, played the menacing cousin Kevin. Rumours that the Gatepost Theatre Company are to be renamed the Collington Repertory Theatre are totally unfounded.
Chris Collington was later to switch from narrator to play the older Tommy, discovering his voice and at first the hero of the community. His fall and rise again, is another echo of the earlier themes of prejudice and suffering placed in an adult context.
Overall this performance of Tommy was competent, entertaining and provoking. The concept album itself dates from 1969 but the content is far from dated. Not only is the music a work of genius but the themes when handled with competence remain disturbingly topical.