The latest in the line of jukebox musical offerings to open in London is All Or Nothing, a show about legendary mod band The Small Faces. As with many of the bands from that era, theirs is a story seemingly perfect for dramatising: a heady mixture of ambition, rivalry, love & money. They tasted great success at the height of their powers, but inevitably they were taken for a ride by their managers and it took years before they got hold of what was rightfully theirs.
Despite this rich fodder, the show falls well short of its potential.
The script is undeniably terrible – simplistic at its best, derivative at its worst. There are regular crude attempts at making characters seem prescient; these don’t fit naturally and feel like they’ve been crowbarred in because the writer (Carol Harrison) thinks it’s clever. This is Harrison’s first attempt at writing a musical, and it really shows.
Productions like this should be entertaining & fairly informative – what they should not do is confuse & pose more questions than they can answer. As a casual fan of the music, I have no idea what Kay Marriott wailing melodramatically outside a burning building is referring to. Especially when it comes about a quarter of the way through the show! The only question you should be asking is “Where can I get their entire back catalogue from?”
The show is quite clearly aimed at big fans of The Small Faces, 60s aficionados and people who were around at the time. It is littered with period references which go completely over people’s heads if they don’t fit into this relatively niche demographic. It’s all very well making something that current fans will definitely love immediately, but it really isn’t right to alienate potential new fans. If the show wants a credible shot at further life it needs to be more accessible & open to wider audiences.
Considering it says on all of the promotional material ‘based on the life and music of The Small Faces’, there is an awful lot of non-Small Faces music included. The boys’ short rendition of Louie Louie works, as they’re jamming for the first time – but the rest seems gratuitous. In particular, an overly long performance of Consider Yourself (from ‘Oliver!’) and a truncated version of Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. A few bars of the former would work, but the latter should just be scrapped altogether. This padding helps the show to a running time of around three hours (including an interval), which is far too long.
The concept of older Steve acting as narrator is an interesting one, though it is definitely overused during the course of the show. Whilst it does leave you under no illusions whose viewpoint the show is coming from, the lines become blurred at times as narrator Steve starts interacting with the characters in his story. It also stifles the young Steve’s antics; just as he begins to really get into a flow, he’s interrupted by his older self. It gives the show a very stop/start feel, which is not at all helpful for coherent storytelling. There is also a lot of background music playing during his monologues – this is distracting, and often more compelling than what’s being said!
Most of the performances are passable, some even very good, but others are sadly pretty poor. Harrison (Kay Marriott) unfortunately lives up to the soap star stereotype of bad overacting much of the time – especially in the final two-hander scene with her son. What should have been emotional & intimate instead is awkward & protracted. Chris Simmons is occasionally brilliant as the older Steve, but is left on his own to do too much. Dami Olukoya has a lovely voice, but her portrayal of PP Arnold is wooden – though this may be in part down to the book.
The show is, at least, visually well-designed. The set is multi-purpose, with extra props brought onto the stage by the ensemble. But, most importantly, the costumes are wonderful! From the girls’ minidresses to the band’s stage suits, it’s everything you’d expect of a show set in the 60s. In particular, the later psychedelic era jackets & scarves really caught my eye.
Luckily the band performances are all absolutely terrific. It is loud, rocking & has a real authentic sound to it. If you closed your eyes you would think The Small Faces themselves were stood in front of you. Itchycoo Park was the first song of theirs I ever heard, most probably on a mixtape during a childhood car journey, so getting to hear it performed so brilliantly live is both a thrill & a privilege. The anticipation of the call & response chorus left me quite light-headed.
In Mark Newnham the show has found a true star. His voice bristles with all of Marriott’s aggression, and has a blues edge that is perfectly suited to the songs. He puts in an energetic performance as the troubled lead singer, turning him into something of an antihero as his own self-destructive behaviour leads to the band’s implosion at Ally Pally. The defects in the script are at least partially made up for by Newnham’s natural charisma and his obvious commitment to the role.
All Or Nothing needs work if it is to survive beyond this run – at the moment it’s somewhere in between. Get someone with musical theatre experience to take a good look at the book, scrap irrelevant songs (which, interestingly, don’t appear to be credited in the programme), devote more effort to casting and take it from there.
My verdict? If you can sit through terrible dialogue, you are at least treated to a standout lead performance and some top class music.
All Or Nothing runs at The Vaults until 21 May 2016. Tickets are available online or on the door.