Review: Song of The Summer. Venue. The Picturedrome Northampton.

Song Of The Summer

Despite living in Northampton most of my life, I never would have imagined my hometown being a beating heart for music and hosting a thriving scene for artists and bands alike. At least that’s what I kept thinking until getting a taste of what life was like in an early 2000s Northampton thanks to ‘Song Of The Summer’. What really makes this performance stand out is its immersion and dedication to stick true to what it’s all about: bringing the audience back in time to show the ups and downs of a group of teens following their dreams. Breaking the mold, the show takes the form of a gig like theatre experience and welcomes a cast of local youngsters to take part alongside the main actors. And while I do love the idea of this, at times its amateurish charm wears off with some slight mishaps and issues, though more on that later.

After years in the making, writer and director Tristan Jackson-Pate’s passion project finally brings the noise to The Picturedrome. The show features a collaboration of professional actor musicians along with a group of younger actors, from the ages of 14 and up,  to tell a story of love, friendship and rock n’ roll. It gets its inspiration from Jackson-Pate’s teenage life in the lively music scene, giving a glimpse into highs and lows of a band of mates wanting to make it big. The plot is set back in 2006 and surrounds a stereotypical college student, Alex (Charles Sloboda-Bolton), as he follows his heart in making his mark in the world of rock. With him are his friends Max (Olivia Bennet) and Owen (Robert Elliot), both filled with musical ambitions and teenage spirit. Their journey to stardom is rough as Alex struggles through heartbreak with his childhood friend Rachel (Roberta Carraro), and the band is pushed to its limits with the eccentric ticking timebomb that is their frontman, Leo Delainey (Matt Leaman).

In general, there’s some decent acting from the main cast with some occasional corny moments, but I can’t help but be encaptivated by Matt Leaman and Roberta Carraro’s portrayals of Leo and Rachel. Leaman perfectly embodies the peculiar and overly dramatic head of the band as his theatrical presence captures everyone’s eyes. His mannerisms often as quirky as his personality, he mentors the group of teens to suit his own ego centric image of what a band should be. Not only that, but he’s a triple threat as his vocals and instrumental talent match his impressive acting skills. Having several moments of solo acts as well as leading the group on the main stage, it’s hard not love him despite being an unstable, self-obsessed, narcissist.

On the other hand, Carraro genuinely convinces me of her emotions and hardships as the tension between Rachel and Alex grows thicker and thicker. She shares the stage less than the rest of her castmates, but Carraro delivers every scene with a gripping conviction which makes her all the more memorable. It’s rare that I watch a show and lose myself to the point where I can admire the raw talent of an actor in the midst of the play. The moment that gets me the most is during her argument with Alex as she bursts into an emotional breakdown after bottling her feelings of desperation for a friend.

The acting from the rest of the cast is fairly good with a few kinks in some parts but they still fall short in comparison with Carraro and Leaman. The problem I find myself having is that the acting sometimes comes off as a tad bit over-theatrical and exaggerated. The younger ensemble that features as a part of the gig-experience do well in highlighting the fact it’s a story of local youth, but I find the interpretive acting and moments to be out of place. Their main role as a group is to guide the story through narration, as well as setting the scene by arranging props and acting within the audience and on stage. Though there are some difficulties with sound and mics, as well as a few mix-ups on lines in the narration which left me struggling to piece together the context at some points in the show. Though don’t let that lessen the fact that they make a great addition to the experience as they play a key part in building an atmosphere for the audience to bob along and jump in with the beat.

And last but not least, the music throughout the entirety of the gig-show is phenomenal as it is impressive. While the acting from some is average, their talent playing on stage was beyond amazing. Being a show all about the joys and beauty of making music amongst mates, ‘Song Of The Summer’ hits the mark with their original tracks. They explore the growing and diverse genre of an early 2000s indie rock, attempting to break out from conforming to what Leo considers soulless music. Which perfectly sums up what is by far their best hit, ‘Blame It On The Radio’, an upbeat indie pop rock anthem that criticises and mocks the lifeless standards of mainstream music. My only problem is that it’s been drilled into my head and can’t stop playing it over. I can say the same about all the other live performances as well. The guitar riffs, drumbeats and vocals are incredible.

All in all, ‘Sound Of The Summer’ is an experience like no other and you’re guaranteed a great time along with some great tunes. If you’re looking for a night out, look no further as you can still book tickets at Northampton’s Picturedrome here or online until Aug 21.

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