Andy McGregor’s show, about a short-lived Indie band in the early nineties, includes an album’s worth of original songs, so it’s a lot like seeing a play and a gig at the same time.
In the present day, Older Tommy (Chris Alexander) is approached by student Lucy (Chloe-Ann Taylor), who multi-roles as Tommy’s girlfriend, Angie, back in the nineties. Lucy is writing a dissertation on indie music, and she wants to know why Battery Park crashed and burned just before they made it big.
In the nineties, Tommy’s (Stuart Edgar) brother Ed (Tommy McGowan) has just been fired from his dead-end job, and his pal Biffy’s (Charlie West) band has split up because one of the members got grounded for failing higher maths. They happen to hear Tommy playing a song on his guitar, and agree to form a band, Battery Park, named after a local spot in their home town of Greenock.
Everyone agrees that Tommy is a talented songwriter, but he is not front man material, so they recruit the super cool Robyn (Kim Allan) as lead singer. The band play some gigs and begin to get attention, but they struggle to get the money together to get the opportunities they need. We all know that people from non-wealthy backgrounds are underrepresented in the arts, and here McGregor highlights the additional challenges faced by aspiring performers who lack financial stability.
Personality clashes emerge, old traumas breed new conflict, and the band begins to fragment, but not until they have treated us to some songs. McGregor’s company, Sleeping Warrior Theatre, creates funny, upbeat pieces of theatre, with original music, such as Crocodile Rock. McGregor played in a band for ten years prior to his move into theatre, so this play takes him back to his roots, bringing a confident authenticity to the piece. The songs are catchy, rocky, and distinctively nineties in sound. I particularly liked Down the Rabbit Hole and First Kiss. McGregor wrote the original songs, collaborating with dramaturg Isla Cowan on the lyrics.
The actors spent the first week of rehearsal in a recording studio, so they got to know each other as a band before working on the rest of the play. As the lead singer of the band, Allan has just the right combination of aloofness and passion to keep the audience intrigued by her performance. Her voice combines nicely with Edgar’s, and the whole band work and play together really well. They certainly feel like a real band.
There are nineties cultural references aplenty – Trainspotting, Aftershock, Top of the Pops – and there is a comic scene where the band use a newly minted mobile phone to send their first ever text message. Costume designer Kenneth MacLeod has sourced authentic nineties clothing from vintage shops too. The lighting design, by Grant Anderson, is spot on and recreates the feel of the era. A couple of times, I had to double check that it really was the twenty-first century and I hadn’t just dreamed the last thirty years. Unfortunately, my midlife waistline was there to confirm the reality of the present day.
I’d actually like to hear more songs from this band, and I loved hearing about their struggles and seeing their tenacity. We are treated to an update on the characters’ circumstances in the present day, which adds another dimension to the story. Altogether, this is an enjoyable, thoughtful piece of nostalgia with well-rounded characters, fun songs, and performers who excel both as musicians and actors.
Reviewer: Wendy McEwan
Reviewed: 26th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: