Janis Joplin: Full Tilt at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Following acclaimed runs at Edinburgh festival and sell-out tours north of the border, Janis Joplin: Full Tilt comes to London with a reputation for being more than just a tribute to one of rock’s most enduring legends.
From the outset, it’s clear that the show is built upon solid sonic foundations. Angie Darcy’s realisation of Joplin’s powerhouse singing voice is eerily mesmerising in its authenticity. Her performance is expertly enabled by an exceptionally tight band, comprised of Harry Ward (guitar), James Grant (drums), Jon Mackenzie (bass) and Andy Barbour (keys/harmonica). Together the company expertly conjure tracks that show off the full range of Joplin’s canon, from the woozy psychedelia of Summertime to the achingly sweet country ballad, Me & Bobby McGee.
Beyond the music, Peter Arnott’s writing serves to do more than simply frame each song. Delivered mainly through confessional monologues, with Darcy’s Joplin addressing the audience like a close friend and sharing her ever-present bottle of Southern Comfort, the neat theatrical interludes provide an enriching context through which each track performed is imbued with a new facet of Joplin’s character. This grants audiences the chance not only to revel in a greatest hits set list, but also to chart Joplin’s meteoric rise to fame, from a girl enamoured with the bluesy jazz of Bessie Smith after tuning her radio to the “coloured stations” to her epoch-defining place as the queen of 60s counterculture. Darcy’s deft portrayal of Joplin’s sound extends to her speaking voice (Texas drawl with a hint of California inflection) and the utterly disarming laugh so often employed to mask, if never to fully obscure, the star’s fundamental vulnerability.
Although Janis Joplin’s story is an inherently tragic one, the focus of this production is firmly set on celebration. As the biographical musical reaches its inevitable and desperately sad climax, the loneliness of the singer’s last night on earth is just a reflective beat used to springboard into a triumphant dancing-in-the-aisles finale, which features Cry Baby and Piece of My Heart. It’s here, through the skill of the performers and an otherworldly power that transcends both concert and theatre, that the ghost of an icon comes out to play in the spotlight. Janis Joplin was one of a kind and the opportunity to connect with her on such a profoundly personal level as this is utterly unique. It should be grabbed with both hands.
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is on at The Theatre Royal Stratford East from 11th February until 5th March 2016. For further information or to book, visit here.
See a teaser for Janis Joplin: Full Tilt here: