The Who’s Tommy
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
until 15 April
This touring musical is the result of a project six years in the making. Involving the co-operation of five other theatres and the co-production of Ramps on the Moon, it features a supremely talented cast including deaf and disabled actors in key roles with British Sign Language throughout.
Pete Townshend himself has been engaged in the work, even offering his original ideas and discussing Tommy’s symbolism with Director Kerry Michael. Townshend has also written some new lyrics for one of the songs for this version and a new one for the Acid Queen. She is portrayed by Peter Straker who performed in the original production of Tommy. He carries off the role with great panache with his wonderfully powerful voice and swanning around the stage. Further stunning vocal excellence is provided by Natasha Lewis who plays a Hawker and the trombone to boot and Shekinah McFarlane as the voice of Nora.
The opening scene flashes images of lost limbs before our eyes with the ensemble clad in 1941 wartime uniforms. We witness the awkward meeting of Tommy’s parents and their delighted dance together. The set then moves with versatility to mimic the interior of an aircraft as actors pretend to make a parachute jump. A heavily pregnant and subsequently near hysterical Nora is greeted with the shocking news that her husband, Captain Walker, is missing, presumed dead. Years later, Captain Walker returns to discover his wife in the arms of another. An embittered struggle ensues culminating in the murder of Captain Walker. Much is made by a tormented Frank of Tommy’s knowledge of the incident with his song featuring, “What about the boy?” as he feels accused by his “empty eyes” which have seen all in the mirror. Tommy’s miserable plight is apparent as he is left in the company of wicked paedophile Uncle Ernie and Tommy’s vile, abusive cousin Kevin. Tommy’s disabilities are tested on several occasions but he is found to be bizarrely normal.
A Christmas church scene finds Tommy‘s soul lamented as it is asked, “how can he be saved when he doesn’t know who Jesus is?” Tommy longs for his dead father who appears singing the overture “See Me, Feel Me.” Kevin takes Tommy to the park where he happens upon a Pinball Machine which he plays astoundingly successfully. Tommy’s father appears, telling him not to feel guilty as the incident was not his fault. His words result in the rousing, “I’m free” which brings on an awakening of Tommy’s senses, seen as a miracle as he is worshipped and has a holiday camp opened in his honour.
The ensemble chorus with a resounding “Listening to You” overture which no-one can resist joining in with, either vocally or by toe-tapping.
This is a highly polished production of Tommy with creative choreography and strongly emotive rock music and choruses. This has no doubt been a challenging piece to render a success which it triumphs in achieving, appreciated by a sell-out audience who in part gave it a standing ovation.