All Or Nothing – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and Touring

_PW27008All Or Nothing was reviewed at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. The show continues touring until 29 July.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This is a dazzling, electrifying, heart-warming show. With a beautifully crafted, sensitive book by Carol Harrison, it focuses on the rising young Mod foursome the Small Faces, who took the charts by storm during the Beatles era.

Steve Marriott, leader of the legendary band, has two incarnations: Samuel Pope, equipped with a startlingly striking voice and delivery, plays the self-driven, irascible rhythm and blues-obsessed teenager who teams up with guitarist Ronnie Lane (reliable Stanton Wright), scooter-touting drummer Kenney Jones (rhythmically versatile Stefan Edwards) and keyboardist Jimmy Winston (Joseph Peters), who gets dumped and replaced by pretty Ian McLagan (Josh Maddison: touchingly shy initially, but a demon on vocals and keyboards).

Steve ‘Mark II’ (cheerful, rousing Chris Simmons) is now aged 44, the age when Marriott died (just two members of the band are still alive).

Like a hovering guardian angel, Simmons acts as a benevolent compere and a mellowing cheeky chappie.

It’s a clever idea: he provides a wry commentary on the group’s hopeful start, growth to fame, battles with managers, destructive disillusion (Marriott) and break-up after only four head-banging years (1965-9).

Simmons supplies the benevolent, common sense, wiser perspective: by 1990, revived rival bands were hitting the road again.

Harrison’s script and direction intelligently wraps the major numbers (all superbly performed) into the story (for example, ‘Lazy Sunday’ follows a wild altercation with neighbours).

All the biggest hits raise the roof: ‘What’cha Gonna Do About It’ (their debut) sets the pattern. ‘Sha La La La Lee’ is scintillating; ‘Itchycoo Park’ – No. 3 in the charts – takes off like a rocket. The title song, ‘All or Nothing’ made No.1.

Many were penned by the gifted, tetchy, ‘big-headed’ Marriott, or the patient Lane, or both.

How adequately do these young actors match the originals? I consulted three wizened, Small Faces veterans: they unanimously confirmed that this foursome is so talented, forceful and musically alive, they could hit the road tomorrow.

Pope’s movements are fiery and bewitching: his rubbery neck and elastic body, his endless invention, feel like authentic Marriott.

Rhythmically superb, explosive, electrifying. When he shuns them, as petulance and resentment take over, the difference is unnerving, even poignant.

You can see why mother Kay (Harrison) fears he may kill himself, as drugs take over. Psychedelia was part of the band’s raison d’être, yet when Lane naively slips into oriental mysticism, you have to laugh.

Edwards’ drumming is a joy. Maddison’s jiggling interplay with the rest makes a useful foil to Marriott’s finessed raving. The sound levels are just right.

The remaining cast is the tops. The girls’ dancing is original, polished and witty.

Daniel Beales’ Sonny, with Katie Faye’s Cher, looks just like the real thing. Ditto his hilarious Tony Blackburn (wig and costume departments deserve much praise, the boys’ with-it outfits are pretty impressive too).

Russell Floyd’s Don Arden, their paternal but financially demanding first manager, also appearing in several other cameos, is perfect.

Roderic Dunnett


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