The People’s Rock: A Musical, Network Theatre/Vault Festival – Review

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In a world similar to ours, but with a few small differences, a family sits down to breakfast. Tee (Francesca Mintowt) is the biggest fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and asides from listening to ‘him’ on the radio, even purchases cereal that uses his image on its packaging. Her grandmother (Jiggy Bhore) however doesn’t share her interest in him. Neither does her brother (John McEwan-Whyte) whose job requires him to be stationed at ‘the Wall’. When one fateful day, the Rock disappears from the airwaves, it marks a steep growing-up period for Tee, as she learns that the world she lives in is far from trouble-free…

There have in recent years been a number of narratives – both on stage and on television/movies – that address The People’s… dystopian themes. In addition, events in the US over the past two years have also been a big influence in creating the world of the show. The familiar ‘Make America Great Again’ here is more than just a political slogan – used on the red caps worn by the guards on ‘the Wall’ (including Tee’s brother). But just as ‘Elvis’ appears before Clarence in True Romance, to be his ‘guide’, ‘Mr Johnson’ likewise manifests to Tee to be her “Fairy Rock Mother”, opening her eyes to what she must do…

The Rock - DUd3f1bWAAE20lA.jpg largeThere are also Orwellian overtures in the show, such as the cracking down of freedom of speech and the country on a permanent state of alert. However, where it’s seen most keenly is the ‘rewriting’ of the past, where ‘truths’ as well as people are erased to perpetuate the status quo’s version of reality. Plotwise, not everything is clear at first, but as details are revealed, it becomes much more apparent why the characters behave the way they do.

In Anne Washburn’s 2012 play Mr Burns, society in the near-future is bereft of most of its cultural touchstones. As a consequence, it places great significance on The Simpsons TV show, whose universally-watched episodes provide a ‘spiritual’ need for stories linked to the past. In some ways ‘The Rock’ in The People’s… has a similar significance, which knowing what we know about his future plans to run for president, Johnson’s complete absence would have wide-ranging ramifications. Funnily enough, a similar scenerio takes place in his film Southland Tales (2006) when a character he plays (who has political connections) goes AWOL, leading to a media frenzy. Quite why ‘The Rock’ is seen as such a pivotal person in the early 21st century is perhaps a tale for another time…

As a story, The People’s… is both intimate and ‘large’ in its scope, using the tools of Avenue Q and social satire to say something about the value of speaking out and holding ‘fake news’ to question. Within The People’s… mythology, time has seen the significance of ‘The Rock’ diminished long before his ‘exodus’. By reducing his status to someone who just tells the time on the radio, the ‘legend’ and ‘threat’ of ‘The Rock’ is neutered. Tell a lie long enough, it will be ‘believed’.

So in a world on the cusp of revolution, what would the real Dwayne Johnson do?

© Michael Davis 2018


The People’s Rock: A Musical runs at Network Theatre as part of the Vault Festival until 28th January.

Written by Beth Crane, Tilly Lunken, Ceci Mazzarella & Emma Shaw
Directed by Sophie Benefer
Composed by Joshua William Batch & Hedley Knights
Story by Nevertheless She

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