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27 review at Cockpit Theatre, London – ‘depressingly obvious’

Greg Oliver in 27 at Cockpit Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Ross
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Even the title is a spoiler. 27 was the age that Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse all were when they died. Now this ambitious but misfiring British rock musical attempts to use that fact to tell the allegorical tale of the rise and fall of fictitious rock star called Jimmy, who renames himself Orpheus and leads a three-man troupe called the Argonauts.

Both of those myths are readily embraced in what follows, as Jimmy seeks his own golden fleece of fame, and then in the second act, embarks on a quest to be reunited with his devoted girlfriend Amy, following her to the underworld after she overdoses.

A lot of gratuitous Shakespearean references are also thrown in – there’s the heady brew of three singing witches, as if from Macbeth, acting as a chorus, and even Orpheus’ direct quotation of Hamlet: “What dreams may come when we have shuffled off their mortal coil.” This frequently nightmarish after-life musical provides one answer and it isn’t a happy one.

The pity is that co-composers Sam Cassidy (who also wrote the book and lyrics and co-directs with Arlene Phillips) and Matt Willis are not untalented – there are some punchy, if sometimes derivative and retro-sounding, rock numbers and a large company of actors lend their powerful voices to give it grit. Greg Oliver brings a brooding, bare-chested intensity to the role of Orpheus, while Ryan Molloy – set free at last from his Jersey Boys high notes – has matured nicely into the role of the Mephistopheles-like Hades.

But they’re marooned in Phillips and Cassidy’s loud and flashy production, which is full of frenzied but meaningless choreography and fatally undermined by a hazy, lazy script.

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Retro rock musical about addiction and dependency that's depressingly obvious