Janis Joplin is not a name I had very much familiarity with – until now, enlightened by Janis Joplin: Full Tilt. Perhaps it was that her untimely death in October 1970 came so soon after that of Jimi Hendrix’s passing. At one point, as a schoolboy, I partly enjoyed but mostly endured a ‘journey through the sounds of the twentieth century’ as part of the music curriculum. It was quite an absurd assertion by either the school and/or the Department of Education as the twentieth century was still in progress at the time. In any event, the ‘journey’ was sanitised and biased, with the music of Elton John included but not that of The Clash, lots of Abba but no Black Sabbath. Miss Joplin, whose music is classed as ‘psychedelic rock’, unsurprisingly didn’t get a look in.
This, then, was as educational as it was entertaining. Granted, I could simply read biographical details online – ‘she’ even has a Twitter account, run by her estate – however, there’s something special in this engaging delivery from Angie Darcy as Janis Joplin. Plenty of spoken word is combined with live performances of Joplin’s back catalogue, supported by a thrilling and flawless band. This isn’t the sort of music I would ordinarily listen to, but I can see its appeal.
It is, I suppose, a ‘jukebox musical’, if this production really must be categorised. But how many jukebox musicals are generously lavished with philosophy and politics? Songs are not crowbarred into a thin and artificial plot, although the diehard Joplin fans oohed and aahed at key milestones in her life, and they knew what tune was coming.
Whether speaking or singing, Joplin certainly doesn’t mince her words, and had she still been around, her no-nonsense approach would have been refreshing in our politically correct times. But in Angie Darcy, who completely inhabits her role, Joplin is here after all, and her assured and confident responses to her critics went down a hoot with this cosmopolitan east London audience. She’s opinionated, but never preachy.
Unencumbered by (the lack of) lots of set, the show flows very smoothly between concert performance and reflective monologue and back again. It’s all interwoven so well that it’s part of one inseparable package. You couldn’t easily separate the songs and the spoken word of this show any more than you could easily separate milk from cereal once mixed together.
Garry Boyle’s sound design is impressive – ranging from the echoey but distinct sound of a Joplin gig (without ever threatening to perforate anyone’s ear drums) to the living room ambience of the monologues. I admit getting completely lost in the moment and, had I not known any better, I would have honestly thought Janis Joplin was talking directly to me in a private room, putting the world to rights.
I ought to have done a tally of how many times Joplin and what I assume to be her manager (Barry
Ward) – the character is not named – used the word ‘man’. It’s well into three figures, man. Man, this show would be 20 minutes shorter if they didn’t say ‘man’ quite so often, man. But if that’s the way Joplin conversed, man, then well, whatever, man.
The show was over all too soon, just like Janis Joplin’s life. It’s simply wonderful that a passionate artist with a distinctive voice (politically as well as vocally, that is) is being introduced to new audiences long after her passing – while still being enjoyed afresh by those who recall the first time they indulged themselves and took a little piece of her heart. This mesmerising and extraordinary performance is pure brilliance – a tour de force with equal intensity and warmth.
Review by Chris Omaweng
On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. Behind her is the hottest band that a record company can buy. In front of her, an audience of thousands of expectant fans. She is Janis Joplin. She is utterly alone.
Created by multi-award winning writing/directing team Peter Arnott and Cora Bissett (last here in 2013 with the Olivier award-winning Roadkill and in 2012 with the brilliant Glasgow Girls), Full Tilt is a celebration of a sound, a scream of protest at the universe.
Age Guidance 14 + Contains strong language
Running Time aprox 2 hours and 20mins including interval
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt
Thu 11th February – Sat 5th March 2016
The 5 star Edinburgh smash comes to London for the first time. On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. She is Janis Joplin…