There was really only one suitable person to accompany Phil to the Marc Bolan musical 20th Century Boy at the New Wimbledon Theatre (actually, Andrew was offered first dibs, but keep that to yourself) and that was one time glamster Paul. Paul’s Bolan fan credentials include a visit to the Barnes tree where the popster met an untimely end and dressing up as him for a fancy dress party to celebrate his own wedding (for the record Phil attended as Mr Spock).
Apart from the fatal accident and Bolan’s fame there’s very little for writer Peter Rowe to work with. There is, of course, a fantastic back catalogue of pop songs and the mandatory pop star hissy fit in the recording studio but Bolan’s life wasn’t tremendously interesting and neither is this show.
The ‘story’ sees Bolan’s son Rolan visiting England from LA – where he lives with his mother Gloria (“Tainted Love”) Jones (Donna Hines), Bolan’s girlfriend and driver of the car on that fatal night – to visit his grandmother Phyllis (Bolans’ mum) and find out more about his father. Cue flashbacks for Bolan biog.
What Rolan Bolan (Luke Bailey) does find out is that his name was inspired by David Bowie naming his own son Zowie, that Clive Dunn’s “Grandad” kept “Ride A White Swan” off the top of the charts and that his gran (Sue Jenkins Corrie’s Gloria Todd from 1985-88 and real life mother of Richard Fleeshman) has adopted a very strange “comedy gran” accent that wouldn’t be out of place in a Catherine Tate sketch.
In one scene gran is on the phone to Gloria Jones and spits down the phone at her and hangs up. This was greeted with a ripple of applause from a small faction in the audience. Curious.
The gloomy sets look like the bastard offspring of Matilda and Sunny Afternoon and the script saddles actors with lines like “Marc made people happy, that was his gift”. If you’re of a certain age you’ll cling on to references to Cliff Richard, Muriel Young and an appearance by Helen Shapiro in desperation. There’s a brief Top of the Pops scene hosted by a generic DJ; this show clearly wasn’t taking any risks with that one.
If theatrical curiosities such as Bolan performing star jumps in front of punk band The Damned interest you, this could well be your show. Though Paul was frothing. Apparently The Damned didn’t adopt ‘the look’ they’re presented in here until the eighties or something. Phil didn’t quite understand but admired his flashes of whingeing pedantry.
However, Paul, like Phil did admire Warren Sollars‘ performance which brilliantly reproduces Bolans’ fey vocal qualities and energetic charisma. And of course the songs are fantastic and unlike certain shows you could hear most of the words. “Debora” was a particular highlight. There’s one big laugh out line “Poppadum, poppadum, rogan josh”, but you’ll have to see the show to understand it.
Things weren’t helped by the two single ladies next to us, who, presumably mistaking the evening for a concert, chatted, texted and took photographs throughout. And it wasn’t even Bianca Jagger who has been known to snap away during a show. No, the role of Mick Jagger’s ex at this performance was filled by Jerry Hall* who happened to be in the audience.
20th Century Boy is touring the country, one assumes with an eye to the West End. Wimbledon is probably as close as it will get.
The whole show feels like foreplay before the over-extended climax of the finale which forces the audience to its feet and leaves them believing they’ve had a great time. Obligatory these days, but this concert curtain call was so cheesily milked the New Wimbledon could open a fromagerie.
*Miss Hall was boogieing away with the rest of them at the end, perhaps it was her warm up for Glastonbury. No stranger to dating and marrying pop stars of that era Phil assumed she probably met Bolan too. On the New Wimbledon’s Piano Bar balcony post-show Phil shared a moment with her and she revealed that they never met. Disappointing.
Anyway here’s Paul dragged up as Bolan standing next to someone dressed as Spock.