It's not that unusual to see something that sweeps you up, makes you believe in the characters and feel their emotional pain, throws energy at you with hard guitar riffs and makes you leave feeling energised with the shout of "thank you and good night" as guitars are almost smashed on stage - but what is rare is when what you have seen defies any labels and feels excitingly fresh and new as a piece of theatre.
The script is punctuated with the tiniest of details that create the biggest of laughs
Weekend Rockstars gives you that sort of experience - more akin to the narrative of a Mike Skinner gig (especially at the time of A Grand Don't Come for Free) with rap style poetry, melodic tunes and a black and white video backdrop that combine to become a powerfully enjoyable night out. It may be the first "audio visual indie rock musical gig play" I've ever seen (and the last time I use that term as a genre), but for being unique alone makes this well worth seeing if only to challenge yourself and your expectations of what a night at the theatre should be.
Playing in a pub music venue (though the show will also take in theatres over the tour) definitely adds to the inability to pigeonhole what Middle Child have achieved here. The cast is on stage throughout as 'the band' - introducing themselves as such by the real names of the actors and so creating a confusing believability to make the underlying tale seem like it could be a true part of their set.
Between - and underneath and alongside - the songs they play and sing live, lead singer Terry tells us about his bad week (whilst film plays behind him as though the action was captured live on an iPhone): losing his dead end job, his (probably too young) girlfriend, his Nan, his home and putting to an end the life of his drug dealer's cat. It's all cleverly downplayed though, so rather than be as depressing as that may sound, the tone is very much that "shit happens" and when it does, then that's what drink, drugs, sex and music (rock 'n' roll?) are for. Sure, it's not a life-affirming tale but a life-accepting one, being a recognisable week in the life of a twenty-something, and the music is the soundtrack to this sort of existence (a soundtrack as opposed to a score of songs to interrupt it).
What makes this more enjoyable - and avoids having the heaviness of Boy at the Almeida which looks at a not dissimilar subject of disenfranchisement - is the use of very down to earth, observational points of reference that aren't too far from the world of Peter Kay. The script is punctuated with the tiniest of details that create the biggest of laughs: chips, happy faces and peas as the best Monday night tea; a Fab ice-lolly used to alleviate bruising on the face; having to go out because 'Barry from Eastenders' is DJ-ing at the local pub.
Marc Graham as Terry gives an immaculately timed performance to what should be a tragic character so that what could be depressing is actually very engaging (when everything on stage stops, there's a beat and then he just says 'hi' before swiftly moving on, I laughed more than that description in words can seem to justify). That he manages to do this whilst singing with powerful emotion, taking heckles from the audience (due to the environment created), conveying his desperation at his lot in life and throwing himself around the stage like, well, like a rock-star I guess, is more than impressive and makes him the standout star of this piece.
There are a few downsides to creating something as different as this - not least that audiences do tend to like to know what sort of show they are going to see so I imagine they may be put off by trying to work out if it's a gig, or a play, or a musical in and at a pub. And playing at such venues means there's always going to be noise around you (people wandering off to order at the bar, going to the loo, bouncers - who weren't part of the cast as I has hoped - hovering menacingly), which doesn't help when the sound quality isn't great. There's a payoff here as I came to the conclusion that this realness creates exactly the right atmosphere and so (just) outweighs the fact that some of the vocals are completely incomprehensible. But as most of the songs are mainly just repeated lines of varying quality ("try to keep your head on" and "some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have bullshit thrown upon them" are unlikely to disturb many lyricists but manage to pack a punch) they get away with it by powering through the music.
Artistic Director Paul Smith says "the show was not made to be studied or interpreted, but to be enjoyed with a drink in your hand" and this is exactly how you should go and enjoy this experience. Sometimes that sort of statement is used as an excuse to eschew any criticism for the show, but in this case it is also very well performed and has a story at its undercurrent with which you can get as much or as little involved as suits you as a theatregoer. It may be out of your usual comfort zone - and the music may not all be to your taste if you still, like me, want to call it 'indie' - but it's a surprisingly uplifting, energetic hour that should be applauded for doing something different without assuming that different alone equals good.