July 12, 2024

THEATRE REVIEW – Janis Joplin: Full Tilt at Theatre Royal @StratfordEast?

Charlie Chan Says:
Texan troubadour gatecrashes heaven
 And strums guitar in Club 27
If there is a heaven, and if in that heaven there is a club of ill-repute called The 27 Club, then judging by the talent, character and lifestyle of the honorary members who include musical luminaries such as Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and more recently Amy Winehouse, I hope they’ve got a fully stocked bar and a late license because there’s going to be one hell of a party.

Add to that the Texan rock chick Janis Joplin who shot to fame in the sixties with hits such as Piece of My Heart, To Love Somebody and a psychedelic version of the Porgy and Bess aria Summertime, then in the words of the Kaiser Chiefs: I predict a riot. Or, rather, an orgy of indulge and excess where anything goes because as the wonderful Angie Darcy who throws herself body and soul into the role of Pearl (Joplin’s nickname for her onstage persona and title of her third album) says: “You gotta take it where you can get it, and you gotta get it while you can.” And boy (and girl), did she get it!

Penned by the award-winning Scottish playwright Peter Arnott and directed by my former RSAMD classmate Cora Bissett whose company Pachamama Productions has given us such diverse and dynamic, popular and critically acclaimed shows as Glasgow Girls, GRIT: The Martyn Bennett Story and the sex trafficking drama Roadkill, Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is part-gig, part-monologue which chronicles the rise and fall of the Texan troubadour and lifts the lid on the woman behind the mask who as one band member wryly remarked practised real hard to be spontaneous.
The play has been doing the rounds for a couple of years since it debuted at the Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint in Glasgow, but like most things in life I came to the party late. If you get a chance to see it during its four week run at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, do. The production is terrific; the staging stripped back to the bare bones with just a mic centre stage, a small playing area at either side and the excellent band led by the musical director, guitarist and actor Harry Ward on a raised platform to the rear; and Angie Darcy as Janis “I ain’t no Audrey Hepburn” Joplin gives it her all and shines and shines and shines.
At 27, Joplin’s life may have been short-lived, but judging by her blues-inspired vocals and carpe diem approach to life and relationships, booze and pills, it was a life lived to the full. Too full. And less than three weeks after the death of Jimi Hendrix her cup runneth over on 4 October 1970 when she passed away in her Hollywood apartment due to an “accidental overdose of heroin”. “Nothing lasts forever, no one lasts forever,” said the powerhouse Darcy in one of Joplin’s rare contemplative moments. “But as long as it’s here, as long as it’s now, as long as it’s summertime, shit, there’s no point complaining about it, baby.”
Until 5th March

Verdict: 4/5

by Peter Callaghan
Director: Cora Bissett
Writer: Peter Arnold
Cast & Musicians: Angie Darcy, Harry Ward (lead guitar), Ken Birk, Andy Barbour (keys), James Grant (drums), Jon Mackenzie (bass)

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