The Guildford Dragon 25.10.2015
Review: Comrade Rockstar – The Ivy Arts Centre
By Ferenc Hepp
After the summer break (which seems like a long time ago now), one of the first productions at the Ivy Arts Centre, on the Stag Hill campus of the University of Surrey, to grace the modern stage and auditorium was an original work by Julian Woolford and Richard John, entitled Comrade Rockstar.
It was not a fully staged production, as this piece is still in development. It was more of a concert version with the leading actors spread around the performing space (including up on a scaffolding built for this show), supported by a very talented ensemble made up of Guildford School of Acting students (some of whom had individual moments).
It was brought together musically by a small band in full view, underneath the scaffolding structure towards the back of the stage.
The show focuses on Dean Reed, an American pop star and heart throb from the 1970s and 80s, with communist ideologies, who became famous in the Eastern Block thanks to his political views and opposition to the Vietnam War.
We see him go full circle, as the show opens and closes with him being interviewed on the American '60 minutes' programme, and follow his life's ups and downs as he tries to 'make it' and get away from the traditional country style music with not much of a theme or purpose, to songs with strong anti-war and communist messages.
As the writers say: "it is neither biography, fact, nor fiction but every character who appears is based on reality".
The musical styles vary a lot during the production, which is rather a refreshing idea. The first chords reminded me of Jesus Christ Superstar, but this wonders into country, pop, early Eighties Cher, Latin and even Rodgers and Hammerstein among others.
The part of Reed was played by Tim Howar, a Canadian actor, singer and dancer, known as a London-based rock vocalist with Mike and the Mechanics.
He was a late addition to the cast, therefore had minimal rehearsal time, but nonetheless gave a very powerful, believable and emotional performance, and hardly left the stage throughout both acts.
The most important people in Reed's life were undoubtedly women, and the very strong professional cast included Nicola Blackman, Katherine Kingsley, Kim Ismay and Caroline Sheen, all of whom had their individual moments through the story and all provided us with some excellent performances.
I personally often like to watch actors on stage who are not taking centre stage during certain parts of the performance, and since the students were on stage throughout behind the 'action', it was obvious from their faces that they had high admiration for these professional actors, and quite rightly so.
All performers had scripts in their hands, but this in no way detracted from the production values and the involvement the full house that night felt in this story.
Having spoken to Julian Woolford after this successful and sold out performance, it is clear that he feels very passionate about taking this further.
He spent a long time developing it with Richard John so far, and with some tweaking (possibly evening out the two acts as act 1 felt a little too long) and the right producer and director, this show has a lot of potential and I wish the writers and future performers all the luck in the world!
I am confident that wherever the full production is premiered (there were numerous enthusiastic viewers in Berlin that night as this performance was live streamed) it will be received as well as it was at the Ivy Arts Centre that night.