Janis Joplin: Full Tilt.  Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Ends 5 March 2016

This biopic comes with well deserved accolades from the 2015 Edinburgh Festival.  It is a wonderful musical journey around Joplin’s short life.   Texas-born Joplin was born in 1943 and was dead by 1970.  The cocktail of alcohol and drugs was the killer although Peter Arnott’s interestingly jagged script suggests that Joplin lost the will to live.  Was her death almost-suicide after being dumped by a lover or was it a catalogue of accidents?  Arnott lets his audience decide.

Cora Bissett’s exciting production boasts a stunning central performance from Angie Darcy as Joplin.  This is almost a one-woman show but musicians, Andy Barbour, James Grant, Jon Mackenzie and Harry Ward, are so strong, that what might have been a one-woman performance is enriched as a dynamic ensemble.  I also liked Ken Birk’s nervous desk clerk who has to deal with a rapacious Joplin on her last night on earth.

I hated the flashing lights that glare into the audience in many of the musical scenes as did many of those in the audience around me.  My suggestion would be to calm the impulse of making the theatre a rock concert.  In a rock concert we can move to avoid being blinded, in a theatre we can not.

Despite this caveat, Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is a fascinating study of an icon and a period in American history where segregation and Vietnam are part of ‘normal’ life.

This is a welcome appreciation of a disturbed, musical genius.

Julia Pascal © 2016.