The Who’s Tommy – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
By Kerryn Duckworth, May 2017
Whilst The Who’s best days were slightly before my time, I’ve always loved their music and have had the pleasure of seeing them live. Therefore, I’m looking forward to watching the adaptation of The Who’s Tommy at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, based on the critically acclaimed album and rock opera of the same name, developed in 1969.
This isn’t just any standard production. What makes it special is the cast. In association with the New Wolsey Theatre and Ramps on the Moon, this production incorporates actors and actresses with disabilities – wheelchair users, deaf and non-disabled actors. Ramps on the Moon is a project in association with the Theatre and Graeae; a disabled-led Theatre Company, which aims to provide change in employment and opportunities for disabled performers and creative teams, and raise awareness and challenge views of audiences.
As the lights lower and the scene is set, after a short introduction story we see Tommy (Williams Grint). He is shocked to witness the murder of his father, who has returned from war despite being presumed dead by his mother’s new partner. He’s stunned, shaken and told that he didn’t see or hear anything. The resulting disbelief leads him to become ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ and the stories of his childhood and adolescence unfold with doctors insistent on finding a cure for the strange boy.
“Electrifying, fast paced and utterly engaging”
What is uncomfortable viewing is the musical number ‘Fiddle About’ which details the abuse he also faces. Then something changes: Tommy plays a pinball machine. With only a small performance space, the cast bring the stage to life with the set and flooring in an amazement of lights and colour for the Act 1 closer ‘Pinball Wizard’. The show is bought to life and the talent from the individuals is evident.
The second half sees Tommy free from his childhood trauma as he becomes an international superstar with millions of adoring fans . And then it all comes to a halt. The second half really does escalate quite quickly, with the plot moving thick and fast. The musical score from Pete Townsend is powerful and dramatic. Lyrics are captioned on the screen at the rear of the space and British Sign Language is innovatively provided throughout the show – not through a translator at the side of stage, but in the choreography. It’s a great device that provides inclusivity to all audience members, as well as performers.
Whilst the actual narrative itself is somewhat implausible, the music, choreography and sheer ability of the actual cast is magnificent. By the end of the evening, the show isn’t one that simply has disabled actors and actresses, it’s a show that is electrifying, fast paced and utterly engaging regardless of ability. What Ramps on the Moon aims to create is a new and extraordinary style of theatre which is accessible for everyone. And with The Who’s Tommy, that’s exactly what they achieve.
Images: Mike Kwasniak