In 2004, the dying days of my teenage years, American rock band Green Day released American Idiot, a concept album expressing the disillusionment of young Americans in a post-9/11 age.
A few weeks earlier I’d seen them headline the last day of Reading Festival – back when you could still get a ticket for just a bit more than a top price Arts Theatre London seat. For the encore, Billie Joe performed Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) solo, acoustic, just him and a guitar.
I’d lost my mates, the sun was gone, it was getting cold, and the unauthorised fire some strangers had built to my right was now just ashes and smoke. There was probably some cheap cider involved.
Oh, it was beautiful. I recall having an impromptu cry, even if, by this point, Green Day were a little too pop for me, and most of us had moved on to the older, harder, heavier of the bands loosely grouped under ‘punk’. American Idiot was a decent album, but not a patch on Dookie a decade earlier.
The cast of American Idiot proceeded to completely massacre that same final track last night, one of my all-time favourite memories being wiped out forever and replaced with an awful cheesy shambles.
American Idiot follows three young men, post-high-school at a guess, who hate suburban America and want an escape but have no idea what that escape should be.
Will (Steve Rushton) stays behind after getting his girlfriend knocked up (cue an ugly and bizarre interpretive dance sequence where everyone pisses on a pregnancy test).
Tunny (Alexis Gerred) tries big city life for a month or so, and then joins the army, gets blown up, and meets an angel in a mid-noughties Theresa May wig.
There are some pointless extra characters on the periphery, decked out in terrible Hot Topic interpretations of punk styling, punching the air, and sticking their tongues out and middle fingers up a lot.
Newton Faulkner’s Johnny meets his evil mohawked druggy alter-ego St Jimmy, develops a smack habit, and hooks up with a dreadlocked girl he passes in the street. None of the lads are likeable enough for you to really care what happens to them.
Amelia Lily, a singer who finished not first, on one of the TV talent shows I never watch, has absolutely nothing to do for the first 80 minutes of the show except take off some of her clothes and lie down pretending to be asleep.
Johnny’s supposedly madly in love with her but can’t even be bothered to have a shower before she pops over. The show’s writers are just as indifferent – everyone else gets a proper name, while she’s given the name of the Green Day track ‘Whatsherface’. Charming.
Devoid of any facial expression or the slightest idea what to do with her hands, Lily finally gets about 30 seconds in the spotlight after Johnny dumps her because he has more fun with drugs.
The passion and chemistry he has with his guitar – which at one point he refers to as ‘lover’ – is far more realistic and interesting to watch.
While somehow managing to simultaneously look like every boy I dated between 2002 and 2013, the unconventionally handsome Faulkner carried the show’s slower songs well, the heavier ones, and his odd bits of dialogue, not so much.
The usually stunning track, 21 Guns, could have been a showstopper if they’d let him get on with it, but, as with Good Riddance, Faulkner only gets a couple of lines out before the whole company jumps in. The same with Wake Me Up When September Ends.
We thought the show had ended about three times, prompting someone next to me to loudly huff with exasperation and exclaim “Oh, is it not over yet?”.
Despite being familiar with the majority of these songs, 90 per cent of the lyrics were completely lost on me, which isn’t such a big deal when you’re catching a band at a tiny basement gig, but extremely irritating in a musical theatre context when you need the words to transmit plot and messages.
I couldn’t quite figure out what the story’s conclusion was, but it seemed to be something along the lines of ‘everybody gives up on their dreams and returns to their tiny town to live a boring life. There really is no hope. Don’t ever try and escape, you’ll probably fail’.
With its raucous guitars and exciting lights, American Idiot seems designed to give those of us who now have proper jobs and expensive shoes the chance to relive the sweaty mosh pits of our youth. It fails miserably. Time of my life? One I really could have done without.
American Idiot is aimed at those who now have proper jobs and expensive shoes the chance to relive the sweaty mosh pits of our youth. It fails miserably.