‘American Idiot’ was bold.
Walking into QUT’s Gardens Theatre, there was an electrifying buzz in the air. The anticipation of Queensland’s amateur première of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ created an atmosphere brimming with energy and suspense in a venue not overly involved with community theatre productions.
Before the audience entered the theatre, Pannic Productions clearly conveyed the theatrical event you were about to experience. From their image-rich programmes and edgy online marketing to their stunning black and white photography by Brody Grogan, the show’s simple yet striking branding tapped into its anarchical roots, setting up the premise for a beautifully chaotic show.
Telling the tale of a group of suburban youths living unhappily in ‘Jingletown, USA’, ‘American Idiot’ primarily focuses on three friends – Johnny, Will and Tunny – and the journey their lives take after we meet them. We see Will’s life change with an unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend, we follow Tunny as he enlists in the US Army and gets deployed to war, and finally, we vicariously experience Johnny’s drug habit.
As a jukebox musical incorporating much of American rock band Green Day’s catalogue, you can’t help but feel as though the majority of the songs were shoehorned into an already weak and confusing plot. However, it was the overwhelmingly exuberant performances from every single actor on stage that not only rescued the underwhelming book, but elevated the show to an almost anthem-like euphoria.
In defiance of their infancy as a community theatre company, Pannic Productions have created a world of mature design of which other theatre companies in Brisbane should take note. From the beautiful juxtaposition of the scenic design’s raw timber and metal scaffolding to the brazen stadium-style lighting design (both by Director Andrew ‘Panda’ Haden) ‘American Idiot’ was aesthetically stunning from the outset.
As a Director, Haden appears to have created a sense of community and trust amongst his cast. This camaraderie reads clearly on stage and created a refreshing sense of self-worth and confidence. it would have been a nice exercise, however, to find another way to express anarchy than ‘flipping the bird’, which got repetitive and stagnant very quickly – the complete opposite of the revolutionism they were attempting to create.
Ashleigh Creeks’ stylised costume design further contributed to the lawless world of ‘Jingletown, USA’. With ironically cohesive costumes, the mixture of punk rock, steampunk and allusions to modern-day ‘idiots’ (one cast member proudly wore a Trump inspired tee), continued to enhance ‘American Idiots’ overall experience.
The band, lead impeccably by Jason Jayzee was one of the highlights of the evening. Tight, rhythmic, and with enough attitude to do justice to the original material, the six-piece band were perfectly balanced and it was a nice added touch to see them incorporated into the set. Musical Direction by Alicia Caruana was well executed, and although some of the trickier harmonies didn’t appear to quite settle, the overall sound and intent behind the vocals were ballsy and antagonistic – just as they were meant to be.
Opening nights are never without their gremlins, and it was unfortunate that a variety of sound technical faults marred an otherwise seamless technological show. With constantly popping microphones, crackles and chaotic sound levels, it made the already convoluted plot even harder to follow with missing dialogue and the constant battle between vocalists and thunderous band. These are all issues that can easily be rectified.
Leading the cast as Johnny, Scott Johnson commanded the stage at every opportunity. His journey from a down-and-out wanderer to drug-addicted broken man was enthralling. With beautifully smooth vocals, Johnson must also be commended for his live on-stage guitar playing, which added a further layer to the production. Playing nightclub girlfriend Whatsername, Kaitlyn Maxwell was the perfect yin to Johnny’s yang. Equally as brash and confident, her soaring vocals filled the Gardens Theatre with aplomb, adding a much needed female protagonist.
Although one of the weaker plots of show, Isaac Brown’s portrayal of the young father Will was a little too understated and it would have been nice to have seen a little more light and shade. Unfortunately, it was Brown’s microphone that was one of the worst culprits of the evening and considering Brown never left the stage to have it fixed, he did a fantastic job vocally. As Will’s unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend Heather, Amanda Harris hit all the right notes vocally, and although it was a pleasure watching her story arc, it all felt a little restrained; a few more domestic ‘fireworks’ may have counteracted Brown’s placidity.
As Tunny, Adam Goodall’s heartfelt interpretation of his character’s journey from deployment to disability and dependency was as believable as the weak book would allow. It didn’t feel like there was enough time from initial meeting to enlisting to injury, to become fully invested in the character of Tunny. This being said, Goodall’s silky vocals were hauntingly beautiful throughout the show and his brief romance with nurse Extraordinary Girl, played by Georgia Murray, was the necessary light at the end of the tunnel.
Thomas Armstrong-Robley’s portrayal of St. Jimmy was the standout of the entire show. From the moment he entered the stage there was the feeling of control and power. Supposedly portraying a drug-dealing manifestation alter-ego of Johnny, this was not at all obvious to the audience, but the continual ‘is he or isn’t he real’ question was one that was constantly in the forefront of your consciousness. Armstrong-Robley’s vocals commanded the attention of the audience and cast alike with its tone and intent. His hair and makeup by Georgia Murray literally defied gravity and further added to the believability of his character.
Choreography by Nikki Blade was drilled and polished throughout the show and although the movements weren’t overly complex, the simplicity added to the cult-like nature of the production. With that in mind, however, there were moments during ‘American Idiot’ that felt a little over-choreographed. It would have been nice to have opportunities to contrast calm and stillness without back-up dancers, especially during some of the slower-tempo songs to sit against the over-the-top frantic nature of much of the show.
Overall, Pannic Productions should be commended for their continued efforts in producing modern, engaging pieces of new theatre. This being said, it will be interesting to see how they approach a theatrical work of more substance. When the hype of a production is so amazingly high, it’s always going to be hard to live up to the hysteria. But for the most part, ‘American Idiot’ hit all the right notes!
Unfortunately their second production for 2019, ‘We Will Rock You’ has been postponed until 2020, but for more information about Pannic Productions visit https://www.pannicproductions.com/.