‘Don’t compromise yourself. It’s all you’ve got.’
Janis Joplin sings every woman’s blues; that musical style that comes straight from the heart.
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, in a new version of the show that has had two sold out seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is currently playing at the beautiful old Theatre Royal in Stratford East. And the audience raises the roof in appreciation of the groove.
The show is a montage of music and words telling the story of the career of Janis Joplin. The story weaves its way through a concert full of hits. Joplin led a very full and interesting life, seemingly falling into the profession and being surprised to be the star that she was. Her life was the ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ ethos of the 1960s and was tragically ended by a drug overdose in 1970. Janis was only twenty-seven years old.
As the title of the show suggests, it is all about the singer and Angie Darcy is the embodiment of Joplin as she captures the spirit, energy and intention of the original in body and voice. Darcy can sing up a storm and whips the audience into a delighted frenzy that culminates in a well-deserved standing ovation.
On a television chat show of the 60’s Joplin explains that the act was named Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, so the name of the band is not ‘Full Tilt’. It didn’t even come from the fact that they perform all out, all the time. Apparently it came from a stage manager at an early gig who belted the name out in the green room telling them it was time for ‘Janis Joplin:Full Tilt Boogie’ to take the stage. Notwithstanding this piece of trivia, the band does perform with marvellous energy, matching Darcy note for note.
James Grant on the drums, Jon Mackenzie bass guitar and Andy Barbour on keyboards and also playing the very bluesy harmonica, are all fine musicians and a treat to hear. Rounding out the group is Harry Ward, an actor musician who plays a suitably virtuoso lead guitar but also acts in several scenes with Darcy. Ultimately, he delivers the news of Joplin’s death.
Jessica Brettle has designed set and costumes that faithfully represent a concert stage of the era. There are also small sets on either side of the stage that work well for the scenes not in concert mode.
This division of space is very well supported by a lighting design by John Wilkie that defines the acting spaces nicely. In the concert scenes, the light from many parcans beams through the stage smoke, once again reminiscent of the period. In the latter stages of the show, there are some extra effects that very effectively, and simply, support the drama.
Kudos should also go to Garry Boyle for the sound design. Every note and word is clear and strong and balanced and that is no mean feat in a show of this nature.
The team of Peter Arnott (as writer) and Cora Bissett (directing) have together produced a show that wowed its first audiences in 2014 and should look forward to another successful season now.
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is the kind of show that fans of the star and her music will undoubtedly appreciate but it is also a show that a whole new audience will enjoy and could even grow to love: ‘…a celebration of sound, a scream of protest at the universe.’