The pre-publicity surrounding The White Album suggested this would be a production that you'd either love or hate. So it's something of a surprise to report The White Album is okay - not bad but not great either.
Trying to put it as simply as possible there are basically three stories going on with each scene linked to a song from the Beatles double LP The White Album. There's the fictional romance between Miles and Julia, the Beatles themselves as they create the album, and the real life tale of Charles Manson and the Family - a group of devotees who followed Manson's orders and killed a number of Hollywood socialites including the heavily pregnant Sharon Tate, wife of the film director Roman Polanski.
Just to keep you on your toes nothing is linear in this production, thus the Manson killings take place before Manson himself asks his followers to do his bidding.
The first half especially is very fragmented. The time leaps aren't really a problem, it's the characterisation. It's an old Playhouse favourite to have actors playing multiple roles and while that can cause some confusion the real downfall is that you feel very little for those being portrayed.
|Daniel Rigby and Phoebe Thomas (R. Day)|
Daniel Rigby's interpretation of Miles was one dimensional. Fair enough, he's a Beatles nut who knows every nuance of the White Album but there's no warmth to the character. He's a voice with no heart.
That's a problem with all the characters - the play is so wordy there's little actual acting, they're basically gobs on sticks. Writer Michael Pinchbeck has done his research, but often the scenes are too clever for their own good.
Thus Beatles experts I spoke to after the show were picking fault with Pinchbeck's interpretation of certain songs while those who didn't know the history of the album or the Manson connection were totally lost.
It's a play that demands a certain knowledge of the history of the time but not a fanaticism with the Beatles that might spoil your enjoyment.
The fictional relationship between Miles and Julia seemed a waste of time during the first half. Simple story - boy meets girl, boy has an affair, gets dumped, can't cope, gets hooked on drugs, dies, the end. But it was only in the second half (far better all round) that we learnt enough about these characters to actually care about them.
Don't get me wrong, The White Album isn't without its merits, there are some great scenes involving The Beatles, especially the recording of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and the time Chris Thomas had to take on production duties when George Martin went on holiday. And the nightmare experienced by Miles after a heroin overdose is really powerful.
But the use of tracks from The White Album to herald a new scene is often irrelevant. Why Don't We Do It In the Road flashed up only for the scene to be dominated by characters dancing to 20th Century Boy by T-Rex.
So a production that has its moments but not enough of them. Unlike the majority of Beatles albums this was like an LP with some hit singles but too many songs that were just filler.