Battery Park

Oct 27 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Musically convincing

Traverse: Thu 26 – Fri 27 Oct 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Battery Park, the touring production from Sleeping Warrior and the Beacon Arts Centre playing the Traverse for two nights only, is a gripping and tuneful piece of theatre.

Writer-director Andy McGregor’s play with songs tells of the (fictional) Britpop-era band of the title. Named after the Greenock green space in an ambivalent show of local pride, they so nearly made it before imploding in the time-honoured fashion.

Chloe-Ann Tylor and Chris Alexander. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

In the present day, student Lucy tracks down the band’s songwriter Tommy, and the story of the band is told in flashback – how Tommy, his brother Ed and Ed’s mate Biffy recruit singer Robyn, and how slots supporting Radiohead and Oasis look set to make or break them.

The tale of the rise and fall of would-be rock ‘n’ roll stars – what Edwyn Collins so memorably characterised as ‘the story of young people making increasingly bad decisions’ – is not exactly a new one. Many of the genre’s cliches are present and correct – the songs apparently written in minutes and picked up by the rest of the band on the spot, the highs, the lows, the sibling rivalry-cum-loyalty, the chemical experimentation, the rows that immediately escalate out of all proportion.

sparky dialogue

But it is all done from obvious personal experience and with a huge amount of energy. This is helped by McGregor’s sparky dialogue and by the songs. These (also by McGregor, with additional lyrics by Isla Cowan) are decidedly impressive, and played with considerable power and panache by the cast.

They also do justice to the bittersweet story of lost love and lost potential. The younger Tommy, diffident and shy, apparently unable to believe that good things could happen to someone from his background, is heartbreakingly played by Stuart Edgar. Chris Alexander portrays the buttoned-up regret of the older Tommy with equal clarity.

Tommy McGowan. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Chloe-Ann Tylor has the dual role of Lucy and Angie, Tommy’s first love, and plays both parts with a raw believability and genuine presence.

Some of the other roles are more like the off-the-shelf types that musical theatre tends to trade in, but are given real life by the performers. Robyn, the posh girl apparently slumming it in a bid for stardom, is given appropriate front-person magnetism by Kim Allan. Ed, the bravado-filled guitarist who is really a lost soul looking for validation in rock excess, is played by Tommy McGowan with considerable delicacy.

impeccable comic timing

Charlie West displays impeccable comic timing as drummer Biffy, the lovable clown which every fictional band has to have, but who can also create real pathos when required.

This ability to switch from humour to tragedy is a hallmark of McGregor’s script. It does not always come off; after a scintillating first half, the second act is necessarily more contemplative and less convincing. This makes the predictability of the storyline more obvious, and the ending does come across as rushed.

Charlie West. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Throughout, however, there is movement and conviction to McGregor’s direction, with good use made of Kenneth MacLeod’s clever set.

This set, like Grant Anderson’s lighting and Fraser Milroy’s sound, helps make the ‘gig theatre’ elements of this far more convincing (and far more viscerally exciting) than many such examples of the genre.

Just as jazz-rock tends to combine the excitement of jazz with the technical prowess of rock, ‘gig theatre’ can display the subtle nuance of a live gig and the raw noise level of a play rather than the other way round. This, however, gets it right, being both exciting and emotionally fulfilling.

Running time: Two hours and 5 minutes (including one interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Thursday 26 – Friday 27 October 2023
Daily at 7.30 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

Kim Allan and Stuart Edgar. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic


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