20th Century Boy – Empire Theatre, Sunderland
Posted by: The Reviews Hub – Yorkshire & North East
Writer: Peter Rowe
Music &Lyrics: Marc Bolan
Director: Gary Lloyd
Sensitively written by Peter Rowe, 20th Century Boy chronicles the tragically short life of glam rock star Marc Bolan, the flamboyant front man of T-Rex, from his school days through to his untimely death just before his 30th birthday.
The audience are treated to an interesting story as well as great songs – and they’re all there: ‘Metal Guru’, ‘Get It On’, ‘Ride A White Swan’, ‘I Love To Boogie’, ‘Hot Love’, ‘20th Century Boy’ plus a few that may be new to you. From Bolan’s hippy days through to the success of T-Rex and the effect on is health, the story unfolds from the point of view of his son; Rolan Bolan (Luke Bailey) who is trying to get to know his father through the eyes of those knew him best as he died when he was just two years old.
Many chunks of dialogue are built around chats to his grandmother Phyllis passionately played by Sue Jenkins with other characters conveniently pop up to fill gaps in the narrative timeline, including a wonderful gruff Yorkshire roadie who is clearly impressed because he didn’t say “f***”
Rolan’s search to get to know his father is also a ‘rite of passage’ to find himself. Living in America with his mum Gloria, who suffers from the after effects of the accident that destroyed her singing career and from the guilt that she killed Marc. Rolan doesn’t know his family, his background or simple things like his dad was still married to someone else.
Throughout the play we see England’s cultural identity, like Bolan’s, change; from the stylish mods to the hippy movement of the 60s, through to the rise of Glam and its inspirational punk attitude
Anne Vosser has expertly cast this show. Warren Sollars has captured the on stage persona of Bolan perfectly, Sollars looks, moves and importantly sounds like the man himself.
Well supported by both leading ladies, Donna Hines as Gloria Jones and Lucy Sinclair as June Child show an outstanding performance in numbers like Teenage Dream and Dandy in the Underworld where they comment on events through song. With help from Rolan and Phyllis and Tony Visconti played by the very talented Andy Coxon.
There is no weak link in the strong cast; Katia Sartini in particular shines in her dual rôle of Helen Shapiro and Chelita Secunda. With the expert direction of Gary Lloyd they bring the tale to life with the necessary grit, passion, tenderness and drama which overall shows that Bolan’s life is worthy of being made in to a musical.
Under the musical direction of Ryan Alex Farmery, the band create that bass rich deep sound so synonymous with T-Rex and live musicians are essential for this piece.
This is not just a show for fans of T-Rex and Marc Bolan. It is a touching and entertaining show that will have you reaching for some vinyl and perhaps a feather boa and some leopard print.
There are some moments that are a bit contrite and some that are a bit cheesy, but it’s a true story told sensitively and full of timeless classic songs. The show ends with a mini concert of the most well-known stuff and it’s so infectious it’s hard not to be up on your feet singing and dancing by the end.