I’ve lamented in the past about the dissociation which comes from being foreign and trying to engage in British culture. A healthy diet of UK sitcoms and Dr. Who have gone a long way, as has following various trends in music (thank you KLF link to the Teardrop Explodes.) At the same time, I saw Never Forget not knowing what a “Take That” was and completely failed to understand Madness’ appeal when I saw Our House.
So imagine what happened when I saw a musical about Ian Dury. I honestly have no idea how to classify the man - his lyrics and performance style place him would place him in the field of outsider musicians if he were an American, but at the same time he topped the UK charts. And at the same time, the theatre was at least half empty last night so the following can’t be THAT big. It’s all rather confusing.
If nothing else, it meant I went into Hit Me with no preconceptions other than hearing something about punk and smart lyrics. And the play did indeed show off Dury’s lyrics, boasting eight of the man’s hits. The music actually turned out to be closer to the Teardrop Explodes or Madness than what I associate with punk (punk does not have keyboards or saxophones,) but it worked.
I wish I could say the same about the rest of the play. Writer/Director Jeff Merrifield has given us a two hander on Dury’s career, but it’s a messy play - much like Dury himself and his music. What we actually get are a series of anecdotes - some funny, some incomplete - told by Dury (played by last minute stand-in Adrian Schiller) and roadie Fred ‘Spider’ Rowe (Josh Darcy.) The two fight, talk over each other, and cut stories off to tell others, and while it would make an interesting backstage DVD or talk show episode, compelling and dramatic theatre it is not. While we see the two reminisce, argue, and reconcile, they speak everything else to the audience. In other words, Hit Me is two hours of narration broken up by a few songs.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some worthwhile aspects of the piece. The light-stuffed pipework maze which provides a backing wall is clever and accents the musical moments well. Schiller is also impressive, capturing both the physical limitations of the crippled Dury but also the swagger and radiation which comes from a rocker on the edge of an immolating supernova. He growls and screams Dury’s songs against an over-amplified click track, bringing a raw fury to the music. Given that Schiller rehearsed the show in a week while working two show days on a Christmas production, this is a phenomenal turnaround and he can be forgiven for requiring the occasional prompt during the mostly solo second act.
While Hit Me is far from stellar theatre, it provides an interesting introduction to a particularly British musical phenomenon and I found myself spending today looking up clips of Dury on YouTube so it manages to succeed on some levels. If nothing else, audiences who go will be treated to an excellent performance and a hilarious, if not entirely crude, interchange of vicious insults.
Where: Leicester Square Theatre
When: Until 1 Feb. Sa-Su, Tu-Th @ 19:30, Sa @ 16:30, Fr @ 19:00 & 21:50
How Much: £20-25
Concessions: £20 (regular £20 seats are in the slips.)
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10
RZ Other Notes: Where to begin....first and foremost, the lack of rake at the Leicester Square is incredibly annoying if there are people in the row in front of you, even with the stage so high. Also, the venue runs a powerpoint slide show advertising future performances INSIDE THE AUDITORIUM before the show and during the interval. Talk about the hard sell!