First published in The Times, Thursday October 13 2016
A lack of musical talent or training has never prevented the young from dreaming of (and, in certain cases, achieving) rock stardom. An inability to play or write music in no way deters Megan (Faye Christall), the spirited protagonist of this new comedy-drama from playwright Tom Wells.
Overweight and at times overbearing, Megan is the leader of a trio of teenage misfits that also includes shy computer geek Holly (Grace Hogg-Robinson) and sweet gay pal, Ben (Andrew Reed), the only boy ever apply to study textiles at the local sixth form college. With the three friends on the cusp of leaving school, and tired of languishing at the bottom of the social pecking order, Megan spots a chance to transform their uncool image when she notices a drum kit for sale in the window of a charity shop.
Wary of Megan’s plan to form a band, yet reluctant to rain on her parade, Holly and Ben slowly warm to the experience of Friday night music sessions in their friend’s garden shed, with Pulp, The Smiths and Taylor Swift the diverse inspiration for their nascent song writing efforts. Musical differences and a failure to settle on a killer name, prove to be the least of their worries, however, and as summer unfolds and the clock ticks down to the college Battle of the Bands, the repeated intrusion of the grown-up world and the group’s own changing priorities starts putting a strain on their friendship.
As this summary of the plot attests, Wells’s play, produced by Live Theatre in association with Paines Plough, rarely diverts from a time-honoured coming-of-age formulation. We’re never in much doubt as to how this situation is going to play out. One character even uses the phrase “the end of childhood” when reacting to a pivotal incident, with no hint of irony.
Yet, while the scenario strays close to cliché, there is something engaging about James Grieve’s production, in part because the fine cast makes it possible to fully invest in the characters, but also because Wells has provided them with some funny and convincing dialogue. We may be able to see what’s coming a mile off, but there are enough fresh turns of phrase and exchanges to make this familiar journey a pleasurable one.
Box office: 0191 232 1232, to October 22. Touring to December 3. Painesplough.com