20th Century Boy at the New Wimbledon Theatre
T-Rex arguably typified the glam-rock era back when they were one of the biggest bands in the UK: their arrogant, androgynous leader Marc Bolan was supremely confident and talented and their music demanded attention. The legacy left behind by T-Rex and Marc Bolan is celebrated on stage at the New Wimbledon Theatre in 20th Century Boy.
Bolan is the focus of the show, however, we track his life alongside his son, Rolan Bolan (Luke Bailey), as he discovers the story of his father’s path to fame and his eventual demise. This means a lot of scenes deal with both the past and the present, ensuring the creative use of what proves to be a limited set. Director Gary Lloyd discusses this story-telling device as a way to “create empathy for such a narcissistic character,” and he is mostly right: while it alters the pace and length of the show, Marc Bolan wasn’t very well-liked, and the focus on his son’s journey helps to humanise Bolan beyond his glam-rock stardom.
The main highlight of the performance is the live rock band that often take center stage, playing a vast array of the T-Rex catalog. The musicianship is excellent and the tunes are belted out at an impressive volume. Warren Sollars does a rather good approximation of Marc Bolan, but his voice is often lost in the mix. Donna Hines and Lucy Sinclair, as Bolan’s lovers Gloria Jones and June Child respectively, are both excellent, and curiously, they have little trouble finding their voice.
Having the band as the main focal point is also typical of where this show goes wrong. 20th Century Boy is a musical theatre performance, but you feel like it just wants to be a rock concert. The production relies too much on the music and largely forgets about choreography. Everything becomes too static and there isn’t enough kinetic energy from the cast. Couple this with the corny jokes and a lengthy and predictable plot line, and 20th Century Boy sometimes feels like an elaborate T-Rex cover band that simply got out of hand.
If you’re a fan of T-Rex you’ll probably find yourself singing along to every tune, revelling in the glory days. For others, 20th Century Boy might prove long and loud, without the usual polished sheen of a west-end musical.
20th Century Boy is on at New Wimbledon Theatre until 28th June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the promo video for 20th Century Boy here: