The Small Faces are admittedly before my time, but that didn’t stop me from having a great one at All or Nothing. As soon as I entered Churchill Theatre, the front curtain on stage caught my attention. It featured a red, white, and blue bullseye with the title superimposed, and it raised an obvious question in my mind: would tonight’s performance hit the mark? Musicals themselves are often all or nothing. They need to radiate energy, passion, and conviction in order to be successful.
Happily so, this is what the cast delivers. Samuel Pope, as a young Steve Marriott, is full of the angst and edginess that made the Small Faces and the Mod era so distinctive. He is ably supported by Stanton Wright, who plays his best mate, Ronnie Lane, the band’s bass guitarist. Even during the songs early on there were more than a few members of the audience bobbing their heads, but by the end of the show, there was a full standing-ovation-sing- along. Although I had suspected that the Mod spirit might be rather moribund nowadays, my experience of All or Nothing dispelled such a notion.
The staging is relatively simple: pop poster art is everywhere; music culture is inescapable. Whenever the songs are to be played, the four band members move to a platform in the centre of the stage where all the instruments are located. The platform itself can be quickly wheeled on and off-stage. I found this to be a nice touch, as a distinction is made between private ‘behind the scenes’ contexts and public performance ones.
However, there is much more to this show than just the music. The use of an onstage narrator, an older Steve Marriott, helps to guide those of us not steeped in the history of the Small Faces. Chris Simmons is excellent in this role. Like a ghost invisible to the other characters he wanders the stage, puffing on his cigarette, yearning for his past life, recalling his achievements with pride and his failures with venom. Ultimately, despite the band’s tragic end, he insists on acceptance: ‘That’s me, that is’. His wit and aphorisms also imbue the show with a sense of the moral and ethical complexities which complicated the 60s. After all, Marriott is a relic not only of the thrilling music but also of the pills, egotism, fractured familial relationships, and exploitative businessmen like Don Arden.
It is here that I have one slight reservation. Serious moments are rarely sustained or allowed to play out; instead, they are interrupted by comic gags. Admittedly there is little time for sobriety and extended poignancy (this is a whistle-stop tour of the band’s career), but the show can at times feel like an exercise in forced bathos.
Having said this, the gags are very, very funny. The celebrities, the media, the henchmen, the parents, the music—everything is satirised.
Guys lower their voices in feigned machismo; girls dance ecstatically and giggle hysterically. I can’t help but feel that when Carol Harrison wrote the script she wanted to convey, above all else, the fun of the Mod era. All or Nothing certainly possesses entertainment value – you’ll have a great night out.
So does it hit the bullseye? It’s pretty close. At any rate, the Small Faces have definitely not lost face.
Review by William Butler Denby
In 1964, a new phenomenon exploded onto the dingy British streets. It was the essence of all that was cool. It was Mod. Mods stuck two fingers up at the class-ridden society and its dull redundant culture. They were working-class free spirits who rode sexy streamlined Italian Vespas or Lambrettas.
The sharpest Mod of all was known as a ‘FACE’.
The Small Faces encapsulated all that is Mod, a unique blend of taste and testosterone, neat, clothes obsessed and street-wise. But these cult sophisticates shared another passion, their dedication to Rhythm ‘n’ Blues. This quintessentially British ‘Mod’ Musical celebrates the unique sound of the iconic ‘60s Mod band, The Small Faces.
All Or Nothing
The Mod Musical
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
FRI 30 JUNE – SUN 2 JULY 2017
ALL OR NOTHING – THE MOD MUSICAL
28 March – 2 June 2018
London WC2H 9ND