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Tomorrow May Be My Last by Collette Cooper

As you enter the tiny space that is the Old Red Lion Theatre above the pub of the same name in Islington, you’re transported back to a rock star’s room in San Francisco in the late 1960s. The stage is set with a large, overstuffed couch covered with throws, large plants, a dressing room screen covered in clothes, posters and Indian art on the walls, sheepskin rugs and a drinks table full of bottles of Southern Comfort. There’s even a chandelier covered with a cheesecloth scarf to dim the light – de rigueur in those days! Even the audience seats are covered with American flags and bunting is draped around the walls. All that’s missing is the smell of marijuana but maybe that would have been a step too far!

Collette Cooper - Photo by Robin Pope.
Collette Cooper – Photo by Robin Pope.

We’re in the home of 60s rock icon Janis Joplin and we’re about to hear her story told by Collette Copper who doesn’t just narrate the story – she inhabits Joplin totally and becomes her. Cooper then proceeds to tell us about Janis’s tale as she leaves her unhappy life in the small Texan town of Port Arthur where she’s called fat and ugly eventually ending up in San Francisco where she finds fame and fortune as well as drink and drugs. Interspersed with the narration are most of Janis’s hit songs such as “Ball And Chain”, Mercedes Benz”, “Me and Bobby McGhee” and her best-known song “Piece Of My Heart” all of which Cooper sings superbly – at times if you closed your eyes, you could have been listening to Joplin herself.

Backed by a superb three-piece rock band of Jack Parry (guitar), Ian Simson (drums) and Daniel Malek (bass) who play loud but not too loud, Cooper prowls the stage belting out those iconic songs with great gusto and energy. In between the songs, Cooper tells Joplin’s amazing life story as if she’s talking to her ever-present bottle of Southern Comfort. Her quiet, confessional style means the audience has to listen attentively and this draws them in to the narrative and contrasts vividly with the moments when Joplin is on stage addressing the audience directly and showing the confidence and presence she doesn’t have off it.

Cooper who also wrote and directed the piece, sings magnificently and perfectly embodies the singer. She even looks a little like her (well she has the hair) and Amanda Newall’s handmade costumes are spot on and very authentic. Along with the stunning stage design (also from the very versatile Cooper), there’s also some video projected on the back wall and some excellent sound design from Mike Hanson but apart from Cooper the performer, it’s the set that’s the other star turn here. There’s also some audience participation with small bottles of Southern Comfort being handed out along with some glow sticks which as the whole audience all sang and danced along at the end, we could imagine we were at Woodstock in 1969 and not above a pub in Islington in 2022!

In August of last year, I reviewed Tomorrow May Be My Last at the Union Theatre and I was critical of one or two elements of the piece, especially the use of some other superfluous performers and the rambling narrative. Well, the performers are now gone and whilst the narrative still meanders a little, it all makes perfect sense now. Also, a couple of things in the original show which were ambiguous are now fully explained and it all flows splendidly.

Tomorrow May Be My Last is now a tight, energetic, full-on piece of theatre and would be worth seeing for the set alone. They say that if a show’s no good you come out humming the scenery! With Tomorrow May Be My Last, that may well be the case but you’ll also come out singing Joplin’s songs and marvelling at how Collette Cooper has brought Janis Joplin back to life over fifty years after her untimely death.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alan Fitter

In an era of oppression, rebellion, evolution and enlightenment, this is the story of a small-town girl’s remarkable journey: from an adolescent outcast to a musical icon.

The true essence of the legendary 1960s rock star Janis Joplin is captured and channelled by the critically-acclaimed, renowned singer-songwriter and actor Collette Cooper, in this one-woman play with a breath-taking live band and a whole host of surprises thrown in for good measure.

Set against the backdrop of a Woodstock-vibe music festival in the height of the Summer of Love, and backstage in her dressing room, Tomorrow May Be My Last marks a key moment in Janis Joplin’s all too brief existence: Collette Cooper’s embodiment of the psychedelic rock idol is deep and complex, painted with dark humour and glimmers of hope that candidly reveal Joplin’s troubled genius.

Written by Collette Cooper
Directed by Niall Phillips

Featuring
Janis Joplin played by: Collette Cooper
Featuring TSP:
Dave played by: Jan Simpson on drums
Sam played by: Jack Parry on guitar
James played by: Dan Malek on bass

Musical Directors – Mike Hanson and Jack Parry
Choreography by Dame Arlene Phillips
Costumes by Amanda Newall
This production is not associated with the estate of Janis Joplin

Performance dates: May 24 – June 11
https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

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2 thoughts on “Tomorrow May Be My Last by Collette Cooper”

  1. Thanks for a heartwarming review. I especially appreciated you mentioning the two elements from the first production last August you noticed were gone, helping improve the show immensely. Collette and her crew were listening and will appreciate it. Hopefully many will heed your advice and see one of the performances yet to come. My wife and I can’t wait to see it. Full disclosure I’m Mike Hanson’s father and Collette’s friend.

  2. I can’t recommend seeing this production highly enough. I had heard Collette interviewed by wonderful Jo Good on her late night BBC Radio London programme, and as Janis was one of my older brother’s favourite performers I encouraged an old friend to get tickets. Well what a night! Collette’s voice and energy are outstanding, and she lives it. The musicians got it just right and in the audience we were engaged and just blown away. Honestly, don’t miss it.

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