Julian Eaves reviews Nick Winston’s production of Rock of Ages the musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre head of its UK Tour.
Rock of Ages
New Wimbledon Theatre(UK Tour)
Tuesday 14th September
Rock Of Ages Touring Schedule
Opening at the gorgeous New Wimbledon Theatre at the start of yet another national tour, this marks a welcome return to our theatres of Chris D’Arienzo’s witty, slick and camp-as-Christmas 80’s jukebox musical, which will spend the next year bringing smiles and laughter to fans (old and new) up and down the land. It’s a guarantee of a great night out, never to be forgotten.
The Rock Of Ages creative team here, led by director-choreographer Nick Winston, is a smash. Framed by Morgan Large’s rock gantry stage, a dizzying parade of genre stock characters flit around like moths in the limelight. And what limelight! It is hard to think of Ben Cracknell’s virtuoso light designs as anything other than one of the stars of the show: shining and twinkling, glowing and glaring in kaleidoscopic displays of inextinguishable visual ingenuity. Large also dresses the cast, and pulls off some neatly deft coups with brilliantly executed costume changes. Meanwhile, music is provided on-stage by the authentically sounding rock combo of MD Liam Holmes, keys, Liam Stevenson, lead guitar, Alex Ward, guitar 2, Elliot Mason, bass, and Vito Guirrieri, drums. But for my money, this outing will surely be remembered most for Winston’s subtle and thoughtfully paced production; despite having all the provocation necessary to turn the gig into a send up, Winston holds fire in many of the script’s deliberately hammy twists and turns, making us take these characters – despite all their follies – seriously, and enabling us to care about them and their world. Ultimately, this shrewd approach pays off, bringing genuine heart and passion to the event.
The busy cast of 18 fares equally well in his hands. Narrator and would-be star of the show is Joe Gash’s tacky Lonny, working the room with relentless accuracy, as he regales us with the all too familiar yarn of Rhiannon Chesterman’s sublimely voiced Sherrie, haplessly love-struck with real-life partner Luke Walsh’s Drew while she simultaneously seduces Kevin Clifton’s crass Stacee Jaxx. But it is in the secondary characters that this show really comes to life, and the casting here gets the most out of them: headlining surely must be Gabriella Williams’ comic genius in the role of Regina, romancing Andrew Carthy’s up-tight German, Franz, while Jenny Fitzpatrick’s powerhouse-voiced Justice blows the roof off with her numbers, and makes a great counterpart to Ross Dawes’ warmly resonant Dennis.
The theatre was nearly packed to capacity for the opening night of this latest tour, and the ovations at the end were aptly crowned by a speech by Clifton, earnestly thanking us for helping to ‘re-open’ the theatre after such a long and uncertain period of closure and calling out to use to spead the word amongst our friends and social media contacts. ‘We’re back!’ he concluded. ‘And so are we!’ the punters might reply. Yet, after so much damage having been done to the UK’s priceless theatre industry, it is hard to be sure what lies ahead. You never know, if you miss out on seeing this splendid gig this time around, it might well be rather a long time before you get to see its like again.