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20th Century Boy

The show must go on - so they say - and despite technical gremlins at the Rose Theatre, the story about the life of pop star Marc Bolan was saved by the music.

It was an evening that didn’t start well. The musical based on the life of pop star Marc Bolan was due to begin at 7.30pm. An announcement that the show was delayed by “technical” problems meant an increase in bar takings but a justified feeling of frustration from an audience keen, in many instances, to relive their youth.

When we were finally allowed to take our seats almost an hour later we were told that due to more technical shortcomings there would be no video footage or displays. This in a show which we were promised was “a visual, aural and multimedia feast”. It meant that that there were times when T. Rex hits boomed out of the speakers while the stage was in complete darkness. Scenes were also played out against blank walls that looked more like the setting of convict drama than the background for the life of one of pop’s most colourful figures.

Yet despite that, George Maguire, gave a spirited performance as the inventive and ambitious would-be pop star who started life as Mark Feld in Stoke Newington, where his dreams of stardom were abetted by his pushy mother Phyllis (a sterling performance by Amy Rhiannon Worth) and already established star Helen Shapiro (Kristina Lao).

Maguire may not have had Bolan’s elfin-like looks, but his voice and manner were excellent as the one-time male model who idolised Elvis, then Cliff before moving on to Dylan and a hippy lifestyle that morphed into a global career as a glam-rock star.

Helping him along and giving one of the show’s standout performances was Sarah Moss as his long-suffering wife and original soulmate June Child. It was touching and moving to see her seek solace from Marc’s mother as their marriage slowly disintegrated after Bolan’s involvement with backing singer Gloria Jones (a vivacious Ellena Vincent). The rendition shared between Moss and Worth on one side of the stage and Maguire and Vincent on the other of the T. Rex version of “To Know You is to Love You” was one of the evening’s musical highlights.

And of course it was the music that saved the show. The live versions of “Ride a White Swan”, “Hot Love”, “Get it On”, “Jeepster”, “Telegram Sam” and others had the audience if not rocking at least clapping away in their seats.

So even the moving and sympathetic handling of Bolan’s death (he died when the Mini he was in hit a tree while it was being driven by Jones) was followed by the now obligatory mega-mix of T. Rex hits. It’s just a shame that the technical gremlins had given us the soundtrack of his life without, in many cases, the accompanying visuals.

Review by John Clarke

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