"Rocking good show "

Controversy has always dogged this rock opera since it was first written and performed in 1969, dealing as it does with murder, child abuse, bullying, drugs and prostitution. For many years the songs were banned by the BBC and the American networks.

Written mainly by Peter Townshend with contributions from John Entwistle, it was rescued by controversial film maker Ken Russell, whose film of the opera received critical acclaim. It starred Roger Daltrey as Tommy with Hollywood legend Ann-Margret as his mother, and cameo roles for Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton.

The plot is simple; Mrs Walkers’ husband, presumed dead in the Second World War, returns after years of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp to find his wife with her lover. He kills her lover in a fight. Young Tommy, aged 4, witnesses the killing in his mirror. To cover up the crime, Tommy’s parents tell him “He didn’t see it, he didn’t hear it and will say nothing!” A traumatised Tommy takes this literally, becoming deaf, dumb and blind.

He is abused by his Uncle Ernie, the baby sitter, and bullied by his cousin Kevin. No attempts to cure him as he grows up are successful until his mother, frustrated, smashes his mirror and he is released from him trauma.

However, he has success at playing the pinball machines, and this prowess makes him the Pinball Wizard, and as such he attracts a crowd of followers and achieves a guru-like status, as they listen to his sermons and finally reject his way-out ideas.

This ambitious production was exciting to watch and listen to. Imaginative direction by David Slade brought out the nuances of the story, and full use was made of a composite set with rostra and excellent choreography by Louise Airey and Emma Lovelock. A special mention must be made of the use of back projection to enhance the plot. A highlight was the musical accompaniment. A nine-piece band, on stage throughout, directed by Leigh Smith were superb, and allowed the singers voices to be heard.

In a splendid hard working cast Tommy/Narrator played by Steve Anderson was outstanding having an excellent singing voice and great charisma. The younger versions of Tommy at ages four and 10 were well played by Chloe Oliver and Alex Mileusnic.

Helen Dunlop and Richard Evans as Tommy’s parents had good singing voices and acted well together.

As sleazy Uncle Ernie, John Dunleavy, was repulsively good, although I wasn’t convinced by his drunken capers, and Barry McKay was wholly believable as the bullying cousin.

In two small cameo roles, Sharon Curtis as the Gypsy, and Paula Shairp as Sally showed star qualities.

The rest of an enormous cast (I counted over fifty names on the programme) gave wholehearted support and made the evening the success it was.

Eric George - The Mercury, 1st June 2007 Reproduced by kind permission of The Hertfordshire Mercury