FringeReview UK 2017
Writer/director of All or Nothing Brighton-based Carol Harrison also appears onstage in her own production arriving at Theatre Royal, Brighton. Her musical follows the talents of Steve Marriott and his Small Faces from 1965-68. Technically there’s a blast-battery of support round a straight-act. Jonny Brown’s garage grunge set is foregrounded on occasion by a sixties chair, with a neat sliding in and out of the band itself. Kyle Sepede and Harry Regan project not just voluble sound but one statically challenged at dramatic shifts though vocals, not ideally clear, are slightly occluded. Douglas Finlay and Becca Moore thrust smoke mirrors and lights as well as blackout.
It’s come home. Not just because the Mods claim Brighton, but writer/director of All or Nothing Carol Harrison lives there, so a charities intro she supports seems an appropriate if low-key kick-off to kicking over the traces in this rags-to-rage-to-rags east-ender tale around the talents of Steve Marriott and his Small Faces from 1965-68.
In pecking order this group tucks behind The Kinks and Mod rivals The Who, based on two great hits ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’ and a less memorable if punchy 1966 number one – the title’s ‘All or Nothing’. Adding to that some quirky individual pieces from their hit album like ‘Happiness Stan’ doesn’t quite amount to greatness; but it just might have. Their less than four years initial span is one reason their faces remain small. They reformed briefly but Marriott’s chemistry with Ronnie Lane was the all-or-nothing of the band.
If ever there was a flick-knife lead Marriott fits it; this band’s split was more creatively destructive than the Beatles or Kinks, and far more public, as we start with Marriott’s sudden turning on his own band at an Alexandra Palace gig on New Year’s Eve 1968.
Harrison’s shrewdly split Marriott’s personality too, with a forty-four old self aka Chris Simmons swilling his beer and wafting about like a bulky ghost, leery with experience, warnings and sad shakings of the head, with Samuel Pope’s somewhat self-destructive twenty-year old self jumping out of his acting career after a year on an Oliver tour and a call from Sir Laurence Olivier, to front a band. Cue family split, particularly from his ambitious mother Kay played by Harrison herself. Marriott’s already split off from a bunch of Beatles-cover also-rans to spear a new generation. So much cultural velocity in under two years makes these sharp-dressing Mods, teddy boy heirs, react to Liverpudlian dominance with macho sassiness and a snatching of entitlement.
Technically there’s a blast-battery of support round a straight-act. Jonny Brown’s garage grunge set is foregrounded on occasion by a sixties chair, with a neat sliding in and out of the band itself. Kyle Sepede and Harry Regan project not just voluble sound but one statically challenged at dramatic shifts though vocals, not ideally clear, are slightly occluded. Douglas Finlay and Becca Moore thrust smoke mirrors and lights as well as blackout.
Harrison ensures tensions remain taut between band and management and band and world. Russell Floyd’s superb as the burly cigar-chomping caricature of mega-manager Don Arden. Arden famously hangs rivals out by their trouser-legs and is a legend worth exploring; scenes with the band crackle too. His successor Andrew Oldham (Joseph Peters, after his spot as early band member Winston) exudes the tricksy obverse: drug-sharing, creatively appreciative, giving the band all the time it needs. They feel infinitely happier but Marriott concludes too long away from those exhausting gigs lose them their edge, despite their exploratory Number One concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. And there’s a catch with Oldham too.
Joseph Peters’ older taller Winston bolts on to the core trio with mixed results: the short-arses envy his cool with girls, and Peters is a superb embodiment of East End hauteur and pizzazz. Stanton Wright’s Ronnie Lane, closest to Marriott, morphs from pretty boy to the explorer who hangs out with Pete Townshend sounding out karma. Steffan Edwards as the reasonable Kenney Jones exhibits his own solid boundaries, and Josh Maddison’s Ian McLagan, Winston’s replacement, shows how his fight to prove himself to Oldham makes him a reluctantly strong business head later.
The band play with brio and a splash of brash. Melodically they’re fine. Vocally they’re a little shrouded and not quite in the highest league. A more refined sound balance might help though the need for punch is exhilarating and necessary. Pope though is as explosive as his elder self Simmons is rueful; the touching scene with Simmons patting Pope’s shoulder sums up experience over very raw talent.
Alexander Gold as Peter Frampton, Alfie Harrison-Foreman, Martin tell as the luckless trousers-upended Stigwood strut and look their parts. Naturally though the supporting cast who sing deserve huge credit: Sophia Behn’s role as Marriott’s eventual wife Jenny (taken from Rod Stewart, who took Marriott’s band) amplifies as first Cher then Dusty Springfield with her ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ a stand-out. As is Melissa Brown-Taylor’s marvellous turn as PP Arnold. Whatever plot-twist could be tweaked to further expose these two should be taken!
The end’s an unexpected sotto voce and an invitation to change everything. No spoilers but here’s a moment when miking-up might have been switched off with real effect as voices are stentorian enough.
Harrison’s written the band proud and plangent; her split hero strategies work to make this one of the best possible storylines of a British band, given hell-bent Marriott burning his talent at both ends, just like the decade. This line-up needs just a lift of refinement, and it’s not their fault that the Small Faces seem a bit les than they could have been. Perhaps just a touch more immersion in that album might have convince duds, but its two and a half fleet, fun hours zip past. And at its trademark Mod bullseye there’s a heart.