dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Rock opera for a new generation
This new touring production of The Who's Tommy brings together deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors and musicians in a show which is bold, loud and touching.
First created as a rock opera in 1969, Tommy went on to become a West End success and a hit film and has been in continual revival ever since. It tells the story of a boy who responds to the trauma of seeing his father killed by cutting off his senses, becoming deaf, blind and unable to speak. While his mum and stepfather try all they can to 'cure' Tommy and he suffers abuse from the rest of his family, the youngster finds his own salvation in playing pinball.
Along the way there are lots of well-known hits including the anthemic Pinball Wizard, It's a Boy, Sensation and I'm Free which sound as fresh today as they did nearly 50 years ago.
This production has two new songs penned by The Who singer and songwriter Pete Townshend and is also re-imagined by director Kerry Michael to make the most of its integrated cast. By placing actors who are deaf and disabled in the centre of the action and making their disability part of the story, Kerry achieves truly integrated theatre which celebrates difference.
In the lead role William Grint is a confused and scared Tommy, a child who nobody really understands. Finding solace in visits from his dead father, played with great sensitivity by Max Runham, and at the pinball machine, he is isolated not just by his difficulty communicating but also by the fact very few people actually try to understand him.
His mum, played by Donna Mullings, also goes through a rainbow of emotions from love to fear, uncertainty to pride and despair to hope. Alongside her Alim Jayda as Frank is a chameleon of a character who wants to help Tommy at the same time as exploiting him. Garry Robson has the difficult role of Uncle Ernie, a paedophile with a smile who just makes your skin crawl.
Currently on a UK tour and playing Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Tommy is a co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich and Ramps on the Moon, a six-year project bringing theatres together to promote integrated performance. Comprising six regional venues and Graeae Theatre Company, Ramps on the Moon sees each partner creating a new production each year which then tours the other partner venues. Now in its second year, Ramps on the Moon is committed to producing quality theatre with full accessibility.
And Tommy is proving the point. With strong performances, fantastic live music and futuristic sets and colourful period costumes by Neil Irish, it's thought-provoking but also great entertainment.