American Idiot is a musical rock opera, based on the 2004 Green Day album of the same name. The musical focuses on three disaffected young men – Johnny, Will and Tunny – who all want to escape their humdrum suburban lives.
It's set against a backdrop of escalating turmoil in America, in the wake of 9/11 and the political fallout of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As we enter the theatre, clips of George W. Bush and 2001-era news are projected onto a screen at the back of the performance space. But this production neatly updates the setting, also including modern clips of social media events and Donald Trump.
The musical is presented by Car Crash Productions, a Scottish company, whose "outreach" programme offers opportunities for young performers and young adults. The ten-member cast is matched by eight live musicians – and unusually for a Fringe show, the production runs to an hour and three quarters. The cast and the musicians never waver, remaining energetic throughout, and the frequent costume changes are handled well without disrupting the flow of the songs.
The production is highly physical: the cast move eight large black blocks around the stage throughout the musical numbers (of which there are many, as there is very little dialogue). These blocks represent seats, beds, stairs and, in the memorable Holiday, a bus. It allows the cast to use the whole performance space, but it's not always presented fluidly, and there were times when the cast members seemed uncomfortable – particularly when performers were stepping backwards on moving blocks and carrying each other around.
The atmosphere is largely set by the music, which was very ably performed and elevated the show as a whole. Unfortunately, the singing was more uneven, with several cast members drifting off-key at points and a small number of lines being flubbed or dropped. And, while a certain roughness around the edges might fit with the punk aesthetic, the harmonies often didn’t quite come together.
This was especially noticeable in 21 Guns – an emotional number, performed when each of the three protagonists have reached their lowest points. During the song, a list of victims of recent terrorist attacks is projected onto the back of the stage, highlighting the main themes of the musical in a satisfying if sombre fashion.
If you aren’t already a fan of Green Day, this musical won't change your mind. However, the young cast are enthusiastic and energetic – and the live music is fantastic.