In Michael Pinchbeck's new play, there are as many scenes - 30 - as there are tracks on The White Album, the four-sided epic that The Beatles recorded in 1968 after visitingIndia.
It was the idea of the director, Giles Croft, to structure the play thus. As the production follows the needle round the records, each episode is designed to match the length of an individual song and to relate to an aspect of its inspiration or what it inspired. The interval comes between the first and the second disc.
It is an intriguing idea,and Croft's production has a stylish and coherent look, unfolding in an abstract white box with sliding walls and using clever visuals to create a sense of period. But this is an honourable mess. The power of serendipity is a theme, but there is no satisfying dramatic pattern for the strange and unsettling coincidences.
The play begins with a needle lowered on to a record and ends with a needle plunged into a vein. The narrative involves Miles, a Beatles obsessive, engagingly played by Daniel Rigby, who elects to kill himself while listening to The White Album. The conceit is that, during a fatal heroin trip, he retraces his way through his own story of love and infidelity, and through the saga of the record's acrimonious creation and scary fallout. The result is bitty, confusing and woodenly written.
Miles's travails, the consequence of two-timing his girlfriend, Julia, with a woman called (you guessed) Sadie, are uninteresting and the dialogue references the Fab Four's work to an idiotic degree. Clumsiness of tone also sabotages the episodes where we see the pregnant Sharon Tate and entourage just before the murders that Charles Manson claimed were inspired by The White Album. "Well, if you will go chasing work around the world," Tate laughs over the phone to Roman Polanski, assuring him, in what sounds like a spoof of tragic irony, that: "The roses are in bloom. The sun keeps shining."
Because of copyright issues, the play has to work around the fact that the songs cannot be freely featured. This is a sizeable handicap. With flashed-up titles and snatches of numbers such as "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", the counterpointing is badly blunted. People who don't know the album will sometimes feel as though they are reading footnotes with no text. A further resemblance between this piece and a vinyl disc is the hole at its centre.
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