Review: The Who’s Tommy at Birmingham REP

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With an opening montage of Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter and images of the effects recent cuts have had on disabled people in the UK, I knew that this show was going to be unlike anything I have seen before.

Tommy, which first took to the stage in the early 90s following the success of the 1975 film, is based on The Who’s 1969 rock opera album of the same name. With music and lyrics by Pete Townshend, the story follows Tommy, a ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ kid who watches his own father get murdered by his mother’s new man after World War II.

Tommy spends years in an unresponsive state, despite his parents putting him through a series of medical tests, whilst being abused by those closest to him, including his Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin, whose scenes were so brutal that they had the desired effect on the audience, with many being noticeably upset and uncomfortable.

Things pick up for Tommy in the early 60s after becoming the local pinball champion and new hero of his neighbourhood. His miraculous regaining of consciousness gets him huge media attention and makes him a worldwide star. However, those around him continue to take advantage of Tommy, with many desperately wanting to become famous too. Tommy soon realises, with the help of Sally Simpson, that he isn’t being true to himself.

The show has been created in co-production with Ramps on the Moon, whose aim is to integrate both disabled and non-disabled performers on stage. The production features 22 disabled and non-disabled actors and musicians, making it an incredibly fascinating watch. William Grint, who plays the lead role of Tommy, was brilliant and managed to make the audience feel every emotion he was going through.

Other stand out performances include Tommy’s dad, Captain Walker, played by Max Runham, the Acid Queen, played by Peter Straker and the innocent yet fiery Sally Simpson, played by Amy Trigg.

The production itself is brilliant, with colourful and exciting sets and a line-up of some of the most talented performers I have ever had the pleasure of watching, with many of them swapping from singing and acting roles to playing instruments, all in one scene. It was also incredibly interesting to see how the show has been made accessible to people of all needs, with sign language and subtitles throughout the whole production.

For me, the show was sometimes hard to follow and the storyline at times felt a bit messy, with huge sections leaving me completely unaware of what was going on. With a bit of tightening up, the production would have been much more enjoyable. Although occasionally funny, I also felt that the show lacked the emotion I desperately craved for such an interesting story.

However, with the downright brilliant selection of songs and the wonderful scene which saw the whole cast performing Pinball Wizard, there is no doubt that Tommy is a success overall. It celebrates diversity whilst also exploring a range of intense issues, which despite being set over 50 years ago, are still relevant now.

Tommy is on stage at the Birmingham REP until Saturday, May 27.

Tommy rating: 7/10

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