In the Second Summer of Love, during the late ‘80s, I went full-tilt psychedelic. I tie-dyed my clothes, listened to Janis Joplin’s Pearl and read the infamous sex and drugs memoir, ‘Going Down with Janis’ by Peggy Casserta.
Unlike Janis, I lived to tell the tale. In post-modern 2022, that teenage flirtation with psilocybin and flares seems very distant. Tomorrow May Be My Last delivered a patchouli flavoured flashback to my flower powered youth and is probably the nearest one can get to experiencing a Janis Joplin live show.
Nobody sings like Joplin. That’s a fact, but Collette Cooper brings an impressive range to the table in this one-woman show, exploring the life and work of the iconic rock goddess. It’s a tall order, but at times, Cooper totally nails the vocals, especially during her version of ‘Ball and Chain’. This performance isn’t just an audio trip, Cooper embodies the physicality, style and vibes of Joplin. It’s hard not to be swayed by the sheer commitment and enthusiasm she brings to the party.
Tomorrow May be My Last won’t win awards for literary merit, but any show that gets the audience to chant ‘Fuck the cops’ deserves an accolade for that alone. The fun didn’t end there. The audience were handed mini bottles of Southern Comfort, glo-sticks, and at one point, I found myself waving a CND placard while dancing to a Piece of My Heart. Audience participation is almost unavoidable, so ‘squares’ might want to stay at home.
The Old Red Lion is a bijou theatre space, and the intimacy of this show works in its favour. It’s akin to being sat in a room with Joplin as she reflects on her life, wittering to a bottle of booze like it’s her only true friend. While squeezing into velvet flares, she recalls being nominated ‘Ugliest Man on Campus’ by her fellow students at the University of Austin in Texas in 1962. This actually happened, and understandably, it haunted Joplin for years.
Cooper is supported by TSP, a 3-piece live band, who do a slick job of rocking out the hits. They’ve even written and recorded a Janis-esque tune from which the show takes its title. The uglier aspects of Joplin’s descent into drug abuse are largely skipped over and the script can lean towards the clichéd, but this is theatre as euphoric entertainment, not cerebral education. Janis would probably approve.
Tomorrow May Be My Last has shaky aspects, but ultimately wins one over with hippy sentiments, gusto and a banging bunch of tunes. It may be closer to a top tribute act gig than a serious stage play, but judging by the whooping, dancing audience, perhaps that’s what we need right now. It certainly worked for me.
Playing until 11th June, https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/TomorrowMayBeMyLast.html
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 26th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★