Follow GDA on threads! @gdauthority


If you'd told me a few weeks ago that I'd see anything Green Day-related in Mansfield, I wouldn't have believed you. One of the most incredible things about American Idiot, though, is that it resonates with people from all walks of life, all over the world, and so the musical is kept alive by theatre groups everywhere.

All photos are from the Heanor Musical Theatre Company on Instagram.



I live close by, but I wouldn't actually have heard about this show if it hadn't been for a friend from Sheffield I first met in Oakland – an example of how Green Day bring people together that fans have probably heard many versions of before. When we arrived, The American Dream Is Killing Me was blaring while bizarre, random and political videos played on screens. That sounded amazing blasted in the Palace Theatre, by the way, in case Green Day themselves ever feel like dropping in.

A few more Green Day and pop punk songs played before the lights dimmed and Brain Stew was played even louder. The cast began to mill around the stage, staring at their phones, until "The Recruiter" (Candice Curnow-Newland) waved her hands in front of their blank faces, the opening riff played, and she belted "don't wanna be an American idiot!" They gradually began to look up to join the anthem. The phones were an interesting, modern touch that was totally different to any interpretation of the musical I've seen before.



As always, "Johnny" (Andrew Bould) "forgot to shower again" and questioned "is this my life?" before launching into Jesus of Suburbia. We were introduced to "Will" (Arden-Caspar Jennison) and "Tunny" (Curtis Salmon), the "disciples of the Jesus of Suburbia" who spend their days bored and disillusioned in their small town, where the 7-Eleven is the "centre of the Earth." It was already clear that these actors could embody the trio and their "this is fine" brand of frustration perfectly.

American Idiot delves into topics that are unique to the USA – it's American Idiot, after all. I've even been to the town that inspired Jesus of Suburbia and although this performance was faithful to the original, the American accents perfect, I couldn't help feeling it in my bones that the "city of the dead" was Mansfield, the 7-Eleven a Premier and the "shopping mall" the Four Seasons, "from Nottingham to the Middle East" – and damn, that punched me in the gut. I was a kid again, hearing Jesus of Suburbia for the first time and wondering where this music – "the dawning" – had been all my life. When the trio decided they couldn't stand another day in Jingletown and triumphantly brandished the Greyhound tickets that would take them to the city of their dreams, I was back at 19 years old, surrounded by luggage and holding my National Express ticket to my own great escape from (near) Mansfield.



"Heather" (Katy Gaskin), Will's girlfriend, commanded total attention as she held a pregnancy test with trembling hands during Dearly Beloved. I felt Johnny's and Tunny's hearts sink when Will chose to stay with her – and this time, unlike previous performances I've seen in which Will was initially happy about it, I felt his own barely-concealed disappointment. Then Johnny and Tunny were off on their grand journey.



The cast usually board a "bus" during Holiday and that's always been one of my favourite scenes, but this cast fell into a perfectly synchronised circle instead, as if Johnny might emerge from it a new person, and it was clear when he did that he had arrived at his destination... but anyone who has heard the album knows he and Tunny soon become disillusioned with the city of dreams, too, where they "walk alone" on the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."



I absolutely loved how Johnny's loneliness was communicated by the cast, dressed in all black with hoods pulled tightly over their heads, walking past him – as if he was the only person in colour – without a glance until "Whatsername" (Alana Moran) stopped, pulled her hood down and they revelled in their loneliness together.

Disgruntled Tunny sat alone in bed, listening to a podcast that became overwhelming as it tempted him to consider joining the army. A new take on Favorite Son showed the dancing girls in uniform, practically worshipping their dashing commander. Tunny's eyes sparkled until the commander extended a hand, like an idol stepping straight out of the TV. He pulled him off the bed onto the centre of the stage. It was a simple, but poignant action. Tunny's new dog tag gleamed under the stage lights as he put it on and once again, I felt the betrayal and intensifying loneliness that Johnny felt when he learned that "Tunny's dream turned red, white and blue." The city lights projected on screens might have been New York City, the original inspiration, but they might have been Birmingham or London through the eyes of someone who only knew Kirkby-in-Ashfield, questioning "are we the waiting?" as they waited for an epiphany that would never come – so they decided to go looking and found "St. Jimmy" (Jack Readyhoof).

The dramatic moment when St. Jimmy appears, taking over from Johnny with a roar of "one, two, one, two three four!" must be hard to pull off, but Jack Readyhoof certainly managed it. His St. Jimmy took total control of the stage with equal amounts of mischief, mania and cruelty that initially scared Johnny – in past performances he was hooked from the start – but was quickly overlooked in the shadow of St. Jimmy's wild confidence. It was subtly hinted that he isn't actually a separate person, but the part of Johnny that becomes addicted to drugs, by the identical tartan shirts they both wore.



Back in Jingletown, Will grew increasingly bored and Heather increasingly distraught as Will read his latest letter from Johnny, snapping "Johnny says it's better than here" in Give Me Novacaine. As Johnny's addiction began, so did his relationship with Whatsername, his celebration of her love and rebellion – Last of the American Girls/She's a Rebel – gradually infiltrated and eventually hijacked by St. Jimmy as a celebration of himself instead, ominously fading into Last Night on Earth. Whatsername declared her love to Johnny, but St. Jimmy won the battle of who would spend the night with her, and convinced her to shoot up with him. Meanwhile, Heather (she was incredible) sang a moving serenade to her newborn baby while Will ignored them completely.



Heather had finally had enough and left with a friend (Emme Gun as "Alysha," who was also incredible) as Will continued to spiral. Instead of Tunny getting shot in Give Me Novacaine, he was silhouetted against a backdrop of deserts and rocks, questioning his choices in a haunting rendition of Before the Lobotomy while the sounds of war gradually grew louder and, eventually, he was hit and crumpled to the floor. In the original, Tunny meets his love interest, a nurse, when she treats him. In this version, a spark between them had already been hinted at. It made it even more poignant when he hallucinated that they were both unharmed, spinning around as if they had never gone to war, though the uniform under "Extraordinary Girl" (Evie Burke)'s cloak let the audience know that Tunny was indeed hallucinating. Then Before the Lobotomy kicked back in, an explosive return to reality, and Tunny's distraught colleagues carried him away on a stretcher. Silence fell as Johnny crept towards the bed where Whatsername slept, St. Jimmy lurking in the background. He began to play the song he wrote for her only to lose his courage and shoot up to regain it, prompting St. Jimmy to leap up and eventually take the guitar while Johnny sang When It's Time – more subtle hints that St. Jimmy is a part of him, not a separate person.



Another one of my favourite moments when I saw the Broadway version was when St. Jimmy suddenly bursts into Know Your Enemy, breaking the serenity of When It's Time, after watching Johnny sing it from the shadows. In this version, it was obvious the whole time that he was creeping closer, gradually taking control of Johnny's mind until he responded to Whatsername's attempts to console him in 21 Guns by pushing her away. Both takes on that scene were equally good, and I loved not knowing exactly what was going to happen. As Johnny fell apart, we saw Heather standing alone, Will also alone on his couch and Tunny and Extraordinary Girl standing together, traumatised bereft by their losses. Props to this cast for communicating the horrors Tunny has seen without literally showing him losing a leg.



"July 21st! Life before the lobotomy! Johnny sang the eulogy and burned your dreams into the ground! Johnny's lesson is what he's been sold. Remember to learn to forget! I'm not stoned, I'm just fucked up. I'm not cursed 'cause I've been blessed. I'm not in love 'cause I'm a mess. I never liked you anyway! St. Jimmy rules! P.S. Don't wait up!"

That's what Johnny maniacally yells as Whatsername reads the letter he left her. I often see articles about how hard it is to portray female rage, but every version of American Idiot I've seen, including this one, has never failed to do it beautifully and dramatically in Letterbomb. As always, the song became an empowering girl power anthem, and I felt Whatsername's rage and frustration; the exact brand of rage that can only come from someone you tried so hard to help choosing their addiction over you. Yet Whatsername's power was equally visceral when Johnny and St. Jimmy were knocked down by her scream of, "You're not the Jesus of Suburbia! The St. Jimmy is a figment of your father's rage and your mother's love!"



In Wake Me Up When September Ends, the "disciples of the Jesus of Suburbia" stood reading letters from those they had lost or left behind and, as the song reached its crescendo, they threw their letters out, letting them rain down over Johnny in place of leaves to represent the passing seasons. He had lost Whatsername, Will and Heather had lost each other, Tunny and Extraordinary Girl had lost friends, and I'm sure everyone in the theatre felt all those losses as if they were their own at that moment. When Johnny stood and proclaimed "time to wake up," I'll admit I nearly cried.

The first chords of Homecoming felt like the first steps towards recovery and, as St. Jimmy grew weaker as Johnny stepped further and further away, it was clear that he was finally recovering. St. Jimmy shoots himself in the original, but we saw Johnny reluctantly raising a trembling hand to shoot him in this version. Once the shot was fired, he turned with a scowl and never looked back. It was gut-wrenching and absolutely perfect for this version in which it was clear that they aren't separate people.



Johnny became a barista instead of an office worker to get home, and he and Tunny were reunited to make the journey together. Heather reappeared with a "rock 'n' roll girlfriend," but soon made amends with Will. As much as I've always loved the bittersweet conclusion of Homecoming – it might be my very favourite moment in any interpretation of American Idiot – I couldn't imagine ever "fucking running as soon as my feet touched ground" anywhere in England, let alone in Mansfield. That night, however, I understood that feeling perfectly, and as they were leaving Mansfield in my mind in Holiday, they were now returning with heavy but warm hearts. Everything was accepted for what it was as the cast spread out to belt out the lines, together, that Heather and Will once sang to themselves: "Nobody likes you! Everyone left you! They're all out without you, having fun!"

Finally, years later, Johnny had recovered and moved on, but he was haunted by his memories of what he lost – Whatsername. As far as I remember, every other version I've seen has been quite faithful to the original in Whatsername, the cast surrounding Johnny to amplify the emotions he tries and fails to suppress. In this one, when the band kicked in, Johnny took a microphone and the cast rushed to stand before him like a crowd at a concert. What a fantastic and unique interpretation! It made me think of the real-life inspiration for the song, Billie Joe struggling to forget his ex-girlfriend, and performing the song to a crowd of screaming fans who all understand it perfectly yet uniquely, because everyone has their own "Whatsername" whether it's an ex, friend or aspiration.

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) was performed with the full band (Tom Bond on keys, Tim Wright and Rob Holsman on guitar, Marcus Cain on bass, and Harry Greatorex on drums). Green Day should totally play it as a full band one day! It sounded amazing. A few lines in, my friend and I stood to sing and clap along, getting a few confused and annoyed stares before most of the audience followed.

I was gutted that this was the final show. I should have gone to all of them! Solid five stars from me. I'd never have known the actors were amateurs. If HMTC ever do it again, I'd totally recommend coming to see it, and if you're too far away, I'll always recommend seeing whatever production of American Idiot you can get to. Just be prepared for a gut punch (or several) if this album gets you like it gets me.
Did we miss something? Submit News.
Popular News