The Who’s Tommy

Spot On Productions  The Point, Eastleigh David A Putley 1 February 2024

Spoiler alert: adult themes and storyline revealed. Any attendees may want to read this after attendance.

In a nutshell, the plot follows Tommy who was born while his Father was on the battlefields of World War II. With her husband missing and presumed dead, and a young child in tow, Tommy’s Mother moves on.

But, just as she’s ready to marry again, her husband returns and Tommy is witness to the primary traumatic events that leaves the boy “deaf, dumb and blind” with no apparent physical cause. Additional traumas and abuse continue, as do his parents’ misguided attempts at treatment, reinforcing the wall Tommy has built, reflected in a salutary mirror.

Deftly directed by Adam Rush, this is a bold choice of entertainment. Dealing with continual abuse in the first half and redemption finally found in forgiveness, it is easy to forget how innovative this show was both in celluloid and stage, making a transition from a rock ‘Opera’ status to perhaps appeal to the intended younger generation or, now, those that fondly remember the riffs and surge of nostalgia musicality.

An imaginative well used set, using up to date technical advances in the form of TV screens and a set of fantastic mirror sequences, perfectly reflects the cold and difficult world of 1940 to 1963. The use of the higher stages was expertly done, providing differing entrances and exits, and highly movable walls of wire mesh magically changed the layout in keeping with the relentlessness of the proceedings.

Add to that a thunderously good band led by MD Liam Baker (who had the biggest smile on his face the whole way through), the first half does not pause for applause or humour. Indeed, my thought was Blood Brothers without the laughs with just a hint of Jesus Christ Superstar, realising of course these were subsequent to this work: the influence was there from the start which has been duly exploited.

The performances are sublime. A more joyous ensemble piece I have not seen of late where every single person was in the “moment”, at one with movement and wanting to be there. Shades of Hair in Abbie Jenning’s excellent choreography, including much mime rather than speaking dialogue to move the story along, kept up the pace: nothing on stage was there for indulgence’s sake. All was relevant.

Leading the fray is Harry James Taylor as adult Tommy, exhibiting great vocals and a swagger to match: first half narrator in total white as a ghost of the future and decline or advancement, depending on your point of view, as confident saviour or otherwise second half. The way he casually invites everyone to his house and ultimate reconciliation was well directed and performed. “Fame costs and right here’s where you start paying”.

The child incarnations were also terrific. Adam Rush has created a safe space for Amira Davies and Jacob Calder to shine as trauma inflicted victims: the vacant stares of both of them were so well performed and the way both of them allowed themselves to be carried and manipulated around the stage was truly astonishing. Talent indeed and credit to all concerned.

Teddy Clements and Hayley Joy did incredibly well in what must have been an exhausting task of maintaining shock and despair for almost the entire show. Their acting together, miming conversations even when not centre of attention were amazing to watch. Powerful vocals to match, it was felt both were always one step away from a nervous breakdown.

Toby Walker and Mark Ponsford had the difficult task of making characters out of “monsters”. Unsympathetic and gross in the first half, neither of the Cousin and Uncle characters deserved redemption yet, as with the rest of the cast, they were real; no dip into familiar caricature. Mark Ponsford’s walk and sitting position perfectly encapsulated a feeling of unease highlighted by the Parents’ song ‘Do You Think It’s alright’. Toby Walker’s physicality in movement again highlighted a distaste.

As mentioned, the ensemble pieces were so well put together. Jack Oliver bounding through the wire wall just on beat to the opening of ‘Pinball Wizard’ was so good alongside Holly Ind, perfect as the Acid Queen: the look on her face when Tommy was rescued by his father was perfectional outrage.

Theatre is there to entertain and inform. Some banality of lyrics and dialogue in the writing irritated at times, especially with repetition of words to hammer home a point already made, but the sheer energy and commitment of the cast and production team overcame such short falls. Subtle this is not. As with The Color Purple, forgiveness for such dreadful treatment is sometimes beyond immediate comprehension and used as too quick a solution or an ending maybe. I was pleased to see that one character in the family group did not quite get the full acceptance hug: by accident or design this was so well thought out and provoking of mind and moral belief.

The music, to those who are fans, is still infectious and it was so good that despite a bare stage, it was ultimately that which the audience remained in their seats to listen to right until the end. It is rare for that to happen.

Much talk in the foyer afterwards with almost a further reticence to leave is always a good sign of quality. Huge congratulations to all involved.