By Ryan Matthews
You may have been lucky enough to catch LUU Theatre Group’s performance of Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 14th to the 16th March at Stage. The show was originally written by Tom Stoppard and follows the story of Jan and his disillusionment with Czech communism. He falls into the arms of the Charter 77 movement, which was illegal at the time as it criticized the Czech government for their inability to implement human rights. First and foremost, it should be noted that the production was not the easiest thing to watch if you know nothing about the topic; I felt lost for parts as I was not aware of any of the historical and social context. However, this didn’t take away from what was a really engaging piece of theatre.
The show successfully incorporated politics, sociology and history around a storyline focused on music. This was great for a two hour production, and the team were able to hone in on the main storyline of Jan’s journey and his love for rock and roll without overlooking other storylines. The performance of Jan was particularly well conveyed by Joe Woodley, who was able to show such depth to the character. The audience were able to clearly see the journey that his character went through whilst simultaneously providing humorous moments and having a real likeability factor.
One thing that really stood out to me was the effective use of spacing. When I have seen plays at Stage before it is understandable that there is only one set in use, the space is small and you have to work with what you are given. Whilst Theatre Group were able to effectively utilise the space given, they also opened another dimension by covering the set with a large piece of fabric, which they had designed to look like the famous Lennon Wall in Prague. Doing this allowed them to display further social context by showing the audience one of Prague’s most prominent landmarks, which tied in really well with the values of freedom and unity that the characters were portraying. The use of music throughout really heightened the experience with the inclusion of some of the biggest hits by Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. This really helped to move the story along and provided the audience a glimpse into what rock and roll was like between 1970 and 1990.
I was able to speak to assistant director Owen Saunders about his experience working on Rock ‘n’ Roll and asked him what drew him to working on this production and what makes this production unique. He told me how, as a play, it is unique in its ability to ‘blend music, politics and interesting characters into one play’ and it shows ‘how the evolution of rock n roll music coincided with the ideological warfare of the latter half of the 20th century and how all of this affects people who experience the two sides of the ideological battle.’ I couldn’t agree more as the characters showed such depth and perfectly demonstrated being affected by the political warfare whilst also having their lives so strongly influenced by rock n roll.
In summary, I really enjoyed this performance from Theatre Group and look forward to what else they have to offer us in the future.