If you’ve always wanted to see a one-man band, then look no further than Andrew Gallo in Richard Marsh’s new play Phoenix. Onstage he is surrounded by quite the selection of instruments: drum machine, keyboard, acoustic & electric guitars, plus an array of pedals. Using these and his vocal cords, Gallo weaves a story of family, heartbreak and survival in the supposed glamour of 60s America.
Ash Phoenix never knew his mum; he was raised by his father after she died in childbirth, grief affecting his father so much he could never bring himself to talk about her – so Ash grew up with a bit of a mystery hanging over his head. Tired of the life he’s been given (and dreaming of a career in music), Ash hitchhikes to LA and immediately falls for Alma, an actress working as a waitress in a diner. They launch into a relationship, but as soon as Alma looks to have made a big break she discovers she’s pregnant; starting a family so young wasn’t part of either Ash or Alma’s life plan, but they decide to keep the baby – the only issue is that this side of Alma’s life has to remain a secret, at the behest of the producers of the film she’s landed a role in. Ash volunteers to look after their son himself, but can their relationship survive Alma’s absence? Or will Ash have to go it alone?
All too often you get stories of mums left holding the baby, as if there’s no other option in a relationship, so it’s quite refreshing to hear about a stay-at-home dad. And, importantly, it focuses on the father-son aspect rather than choosing to belittle the absent mother for daring to want a career. Marsh’s show fuses talk with song, elements of spoken word coming in here & there to bridge the gap – as a result the piece is full of rhythm, which chimes with the central character of Ash and also makes it very engaging to watch. The setting is perhaps a bit unexpected to start with, but Hollywood in the 60s is so evocative; it paints half the picture before too much has happened.
Andrew Gallo is a born storyteller, with bucketloads of charm and an easy delivery. His talent for music is also something special, mastering everything laid out in front of him – and at one point even utilising an incredibly unorthodox method of playing the drums and electric guitar simultaneously! Gallo moves seamlessly between speech & song and from character to character, capturing the hurt & hope that come to define Ash Phoenix’s life.
My verdict? A very special one-man show, fusing music with spoken word to tell a brilliant story – Andrew Gallo is a charismatic storyteller.
Phoenix runs at Pleasance Dome (10Dome) until 26 August 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.