The Who’s Tommy – the original rock opera – is a sprawling, kaleidoscopic storytelling experience. So it makes sense for Kerry Michael’s staging – a co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre and disabled theatre consortium Ramps on the Moon – to be sprawling and kaleidoscopic too. And, brilliantly, liberatingly, it is.
The concept is inspired. A musical about a young child shocked into “deafness, dumbness and blindness” by the death of his dapper RAF dad, staged by disabled and non-disabled performers. Michael’s cast – some in wheelchairs, some with hearing aids, some voiced by back-up singers – knock the stuffing out of Pete Townshend’s score, finding layer upon layer of parallelism without ever sacrificing drama or drive.
William Grint is remarkable in the title role, investing the traumatised Tommy with oceans of emotion yet barely saying a word. Max Runham is equally good as the charismatic, compassionate ghost of his father, as is Alim Jayda as his weaselly stepdad, Frank. Sublime voices abound, particularly from Runham, from Shekinah McFarlane, who voices Donna Mullings’ Nora, and from original cast member Peter Straker, who’s Acid Queen – a jaded, over-the-hill drag act – is revelatory.
It’s all brought together in spectacular style on Neil Irish’s folding, projection-splashed, metallic set, with Mark Smith’s choreography – an exuberant extrapolation of sign language – ensuring accessibility for all. An eye-opening, awe-inspiring, extraordinary evening.