Review: Rock Follies, Chichester Festival Theatre

A great cast can’t do much with the dated Rock Follies at Chichester Festival Theatre

“The managers and bankers
The publishers and wankers”

Forever a slave to an appealing cast, I schlepped to Rock Follies more in the anticipation of performances rather than the play itself. Based on a 1970s TV show I’d never heard of, Chloë Moss’ book uses Howard Schuman’s series to tell the story of the rise and fall of a rock group, Little Ladies, formed out of outrage by Anna, Dee and Q to the rampant sexism of the era at large and the music industry in particular.

It’s a fascinating premise but one which didn’t feel at all fresh to me. It is spritely and well-intentioned but a touch unadventurous in its storytelling, consequently it feels like a terribly dated piece despite being a newly written play. There’s little new insight on offer, news that the entertainment industry is cut-throat and tough on personal relationships is hardly ground-breaking and the nascent feminism underexplored.

The way that the original songs by Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay are used also bog the show down in its period setting. They hardly set the world alight and in abbreviated snippets also leave you feeling short-changed. Nigel Lilley’s arrangements and Toby Higgins’ musical direction at least keep them sounding bright and as punchy as possible, even if nary an earworm feels in danger of appearing.

The saving grace of Dominic Cooke’s production is the cast, and they do make proceedings supremely watchable at times. Carly Bawden, Zizi Strallen and Angela Marie Hurst are great fun as the group, Philippa Stefani a late cuckoo in the nest, all delivering vibrant performances. Tamsin Carroll and Samuel Barnett are good as co-managers and Fred Haig multi-roles efficiently. But a narrative that packs in so much into fragmented scenes and locations makes for a bitty production that underwhelms.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
Rock Follies is booking at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 26th August

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