ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 6th September, 2016
The title might lead you to expect a jukebox musical but writer-director Bob Eaton’s new piece is all-new, all-original. Well, up to a point: the plot is lifted from Hamlet and some of the tunes are Ludwig Van B’s. Eaton also draws on Shakespeare for iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, which give the show a heightened theatricality and also provide the opportunity for some literary gags. This is Return to the Forbidden Planet meets That’ll Be The Day. Eaton’s tunes pastiche classic rock and roll hits. Performed by a talented ensemble of actor-musicians, the songs have an authentic sound and, unlike some jukebox musicals, the songs develop rather than interrupt the plot.
It’s also very funny.
It’s Britain and it’s 1956 and Michael Fletcher is Johnny Hamlet, returning from national service in the RAF to attend his father’s funeral. His father’s ghost keeps appearing, driving the young man around the bend with his demands for revenge. Matthew Devitt is in excellent form as the murdered man and he plays a mean guitar – often at the same time. Young Hamlet adopts a leather jacket and D.A. hairdo as he goes off the rails, while Ophelia (Chloe Edwards-Wood) rebels against her straitlaced father Polonius (Steven Markwick). Oliver Beamish’s affable Claud reminds me of Boycie at times – and you question if this character could stoop to murdering his brother… Georgina Field’s Gertrude is an energetically common, gorblimey Londoner, bringing a touch of music hall to her songs. Meanwhile, Larry (Laertes) is dropping hints about his own emotional trials (the handsome Joseph Eaton-Kent, cutting quite a dash); and Niall Kerrigan brings a lot of fun to his role as Teddy boy/wide boy Waltzer.
Patrick Connellan’s set evokes a 1950s dance hall, enhanced by the backdrops of Arnim Friess’s video designs. Choreography by Beverley Norris-Edmunds adds to the period setting, although for the most part, the cast are playing instruments while moving, acting and singing.
It’s an engaging, amusing show that proves irresistible, tickling the funny bone and setting the toes tapping. Eaton tempers the nostalgic appeal with touches of social commentary: those who long to return to Britain as it was in the 1950s would do well to be reminded of the unhealthy aspects of the era, from the prevalence of smoking (it was good for you back then!) and the law against homosexuality, to name but two. Also, “everything was in black and white and there was no Radio 1” – Every cloud!
This is a feel-good Hamlet, if you can imagine such a thing. On reflection, I wonder if a different title might suit it better: we expect to hear the titular song but it never comes, although what we do get is more than good enough.