Even if, like me, you don’t know much about mod culture or wouldn’t usually choose to listen to Sixties music, it’s difficult not to rave about this musical after seeing it. The story of the mod band The Small Faces has been brought to life on stage by writer Carol Harrison.
Granted, it is sort of predictable; the band meet in a music shop, start playing together, get a record deal, make a few hits and then get too famous for their own good. But it’s a good watch, especially if you’re a fan and into mod culture.
The whole audience was thrown back in time—the music, the clothes, the culture—and all this added to the illusion that we were really there. That’s owed to Harrison’s research and writing.
Harrison, who witnessed the East End mod culture herself, says she was motivated to write the play after hearing of lead signer Steve Marriot’s tragic death in a house fire in 1991 and the loss of guitarist Ronnie Lane in 1998.
After researching the bands ups and downs, she was eager to write a musical about it all. The story takes you through the fame, the chart toppers, the appearance on the BBC, touring, the rows, the drinking, and the drugs of the swinging Sixties.
Two actors played Steve Marriot’s character, at two different stages of his life. Young Steve (Mark Newman) is buzzing with energy and has a great voice. Newman demonstrated a highly sensitive portrayal of the mod front man, who was shaped by the culture at the time.
But he is easily out shadowed, along with the rest of the cast by Chris Simmonds, who was playing the older more troubled, cockney geezer that is Steve Marriot. I was convinced he was actually getting progressively more drunk as the show went on, but he was just that good at acting drunk. My eyes followed his movements throughout the play; his body language gave the sense that throughout the musical, he was desperate to tell his younger self things that he couldn’t.
Cleverly, the musicals minimalist efforts with it’s cast and set really enhanced the music and storyline. The use of multi-roling showed off the casts expertise in accents, body language, and Charlotte Espiner’s creative costume ideas. It really worked. The set and backdrop was decorated with memorabilia and exposed brick and remained the same throughout. This was convincing enough for me to believe I was a fly on the wall in a pub, in Steve Marriot’s mum’s living room, and at a Small Faces gig at the Ally Pally in 1968.
In context though, all I could think the whole way through was how this mod culture trend was making a big time comeback. The audience seem to reflect that too: many were dressed in mod attire. There was even an advert in the programme for ‘mod’ shoes.
A few thought-provoking points were made about class—the ‘poorer’ mods like Steve were cutting costs to get the coolest clothing out of the back of lorries, while the richer kids were trying to pretend they weren’t rich by dressing poor. I guess whatever the time frame, some things don’t change that much for 14 – 18 year olds. One of Young Steve’s lines in the opening was: “We’re the new generation, everyone’s ‘individual’, we are revolutionary.” I couldn’t help but think of Fallowfield with its ‘wavy garms’ and overheard conversations about politics.
Harrison’s humour kept the musical light though. Her depiction of the classic-cockney Marriot family was brilliant; I thought I was in my own living room with my own parents: “Will you tell him, Bill” Steve’s mother repeated, not letting Steve’s father get a word in.
All or Nothing is a great feel good show, with much energy and nostalgia that makes you feel like you missed out on being a part of Sixties London.