From the punchy opening number, the musical American Idiot takes the audience on an unexpected exploration of the American youth’s identity in the form of three friends, Johnny (Tom Milner), Will (Samuel Pope) and Tunny (Joshua Dowen). Their aim is to break free from a suffocating suburban lifestyle and the restrictions of their families.
American Idiot follows the friends’ lives as Johnny and Tunny move away from home to the city, whilst Will is forced to stay behind when his girlfriend, Heather (Siobhan O’Driscoll) reveals she is pregnant. Johnny falls down a dark path of drugs and alcohol, led on by his supposed friend St Jimmy (Luke Friend), and falls in love with Whatsername (Sam Lavery). Whilst this is happening Tunny’s patriotism grows and he joins the army to go on his own journey of growth.
The setting is cleverly conveyed through the use of a television screen prior to curtain up, showing several clips of social and political affairs, depicting 9/11 and other recognizable events from the early 2000s. The rest of the staging is also used very effectively as it incorporates different levels and depths which allow for multiple scenes to occur at the same time, intertwining the friends’ lives and demonstrating the different issues they are each facing.
The performance of the lead actors as they drift apart from distance and parenthood – patriotism and a steadfast determination to remain permanently carefree creates a clash of emotions. There is a definitive loss of youth that permeates the characters, played subtly by Tom Milner as he experiences lost love and an addiction to drugs. This is punctuated by moments of silence which balance the power and volume of the music by Green Day. The intense lyrics express the underlying grittiness and raw experiences that the characters struggle with.
They are led back together and it’s this rediscovery of each other and how they have a new positive perspective on their home town that means the performance finishes on an uplifting note. They realise they need each other and have to wake up and face reality.
However, in spite of this, there are some moments that feel quite disconnected.
The audience is then forced to work to understand the sequencing as the following scenes can seem out of context. This is particularly noticeable in the dream sequence Tunny has whilst in the hospital and, despite a good rendition, it is a struggle to keep up with where the actors are going.
American Idiot tackles some difficult issues of drugs, love, war, and unexpected parenthood with humour and skill, whilst delivering emotional poignancy. The songs carry the performance through and the skilfully executed choreography punctuates their emphatic emotions.
Image: Mark Dawson