“Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Morrison and Winehouse: all music legends whose lives were tragically cut short at 27”.
Co-produced by Matt Willis, Arlene Phillips and Sam Cassidy’s 27 explores the tragic fate of aspiring musician Jimmy as the latest member of the 27 club, exposing the dark and tragic relation between fame and fate, stardom and drug addiction.
Jimmy, or Orpheus (his stage name), enters as a young, handsome and endearing character that gets his all-important big break with his band Jason and the Argonaut, but at what cost? The plot seems an all too familiar tragedy, yet the storyline is thickened by the questions addressed surrounding fate. Deployed through parallels with Greek tragedy, and a Shakespearean intertextuality through the inclusion of the three ‘fates’ (witches) forming a strong vocal chorus, the plot is dripping with references for its audience to pick up on.
The concept of fate is one engaged in by all the members of the ’27 club’, with the parallels drawn with Greek tragedy only strengthening the concept’s prevalence. The myth of Orpheus centres around man’s flawed desire, and unavoidable downfall through giving in to temptation. There were also intertextual links drawn between the protagonist’s journey and the young characters of Hamlet and Macbeth. Although the parallels were made clear for the audience to grasp, the quantity in which they appeared caused an element of disconnection between reality and intertextuality.
Overall I think the show failed to succeed ironically, due to its over ambition. Understandably the notion of the ’27 club’ calls for parallels and comparisons to be made but nevertheless, there was simply far too much material for a two-hour show.
The first half was strong, but required some fine-tuning, the relationship between Jimmy and ill-fated girlfriend Amy in the opening scenes failed to establish their relationship as convincing, which impacted on the events of the second act. Amy is kind and wholesome but incredibly two-dimensional. Cassie Compton’s voice was thoroughly mesmerising yet Amy as a character requires further work. Amy tragically becomes the first member of the cast to die at 27 in a seemingly out of character twist; Amy dies of a heroin overdose on her first use. Her character is never fully explored beyond her being the sweet but naïve girlfriend of the out of control rock star, making her death far less impactful than it could have been for the audience.
The second act was more focused on fantasy and myth, attempting to fuse the two. The re-enactment of the Orpheus myth as a dream sequence was an interesting concept which made full use of the incredibly talented ‘fates’ who in my opinion vocally carried the female chorus. However, the jump from reality to fantasy, modern day rock star to ancient hero, was perhaps a leap too far and whilst the staging was excellent the narrative felt awkward and clumsy. Despite this, Orpheus’ death, whilst foreshadowed from the beginning of the show, is heart-breaking and staged perfectly as a whirr of confusion and panic from which I felt immersed in the scene.
Although the show had teething problems, credit must be awarded to an absolutely incredible performance, particularly from Greg Oliver (Orpheus), Lucy Martin (Miss M) and Ryan Gibb (Jason). The chorus of nymphs also provided an impactful presence with some of the strongest dance numbers I’ve seen in musical theatre for a long time.
27 runs until the 22nd October at the Cockpit Theatre – if you’re looking for something original with excellent future potential then I’d recommend a visit to see this show.