Rock Out With Janis Joplin At Theatre Royal Stratford East: Review

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, Theatre Royal Stratford East ★★★★☆

Sophia Shluger
By Sophia Shluger Last edited 20 months ago
Rock Out With Janis Joplin At Theatre Royal Stratford East: Review Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, Theatre Royal Stratford East 4
Photo by Robert Day.

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is a high octane musical rock tribute to one of rock and roll’s most beloved female trailblazers. The format — a pseudo musical under the guise of a rock show — is interjected with monologue vignettes by Janis, an endearing artist who once said "on stage I make love to 25,000 people; and then I go home alone".

The show, directed by Cora Bissett and starring Angie Darcy at the Stratford East Theatre, successfully captures Janis’s musical talent and multitude of struggles, chronologically tracing her troubled childhood to her fight with bulimia, substance abuse and her enduring and unfulfilled desire to be loved and accepted, but only for who she was.

Accompanied in the background by a talented Full Tilt boogie band starring Andy Barbour, James Grant, Jon Mackenzie and Harry Ward, Janis pauses between numbers to offer a glimpse into her life and thoughts. They cover everything from her love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to her experience standing up to a racist teacher, to her bisexual desires and creation of her onstage persona named ‘Pearl’, who was the brave rocker she aspired to be.

Darcy is convincingly complex as Janis in both voice and persona, a wise, young woman who was always trying to be ‘high’ both on life and substances (with the latter usually used to achieve the former). Props give intimacy and authenticity to the show and include her signature red rounded spectacles, feather boas and the use of a side backstage dresser, where she opens up to the audience. And like the show’s musical numbers, the lighting is also dramatic and full on — at times very much in your face.

The second half is higher on energy than the first (and feels like it could be switched with the first half), owing to its more narrative format where we finally see Janis interact with fellow band members in private or as a group. One comes away unclear what’s fact and what's fiction, which raises the question if one’s own long held beliefs on Janis are historically accurate. As much a show for die-hard fans as it is for appreciators for music of the era, the show ends somewhat abruptly — like her life — leaving the audience yearning for more.

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square E15 1BN, until 5 March 2016. Tickets £5-£22.50. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 13 February 2016