Just For One Day

John O’Farrell
The Old Vic
The Old Vic

Listing details and ticket info...

Craige Els as Bob and Abiona Omonua as Amara Credit: Manuel Harlan:
Julie Atherton as Margaret Thatcher Credit: Manuel Harlan:
Naomi Katiyo as Jemma, Joel Montague as Harvey, Jackie Clune as Suzanne in 2024 Credit: Manuel Harlan:

The pounding rhythms of the jukebox musical Just For One Day wrapped around the humorous performance of Craige Els as the determined slightly grumpy Bob Geldoff gives us a warmhearted story of the music-driven attempt to help the people starving in the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s.

A BBC report on the 1984 famine prompted waves of support to charity organisations. There was no shortage of food. The problem was who had the money to buy it.

Bob Geldoff, shocked by the documentary, got thirty-seven celebrities to record the song "Do They Know its Christmas", the proceeds minus the Thatcher tax going to the feeding of those starving in Ethiopia.

It was followed up by the 1985 concert in London and Philadelphia involving even more celebrities to raise money, this time to provide both the food and the transport to get it to the people in need.

The light three-hour musical is framed by some of the participants such as Geldoff and a young shop worker Suzanne and her boyfriend recalling what happened. Whereas Suzanne is enthusiastic about the events unfolding, her partner for a time is more sceptical, though later to audience laughter we hear he became a banker.

Other voices include the aid worker Amara (Abiona Omonua), who points out to Geldoff on a visit to Ethiopia that the reason people are still starving after the food was sent is the criminal cartels at the port who demand money to release the food and problems caused by the local dictator.

Beyond the African chaos and the odd flippant remark about white guys taking a quick break from sniffing cocaine to “help Africa”, there isn’t any explanation for the context to these events including the contribution of the West to creating the crises in the first place and the tendency of aid to often work as a form of imperialism.

The comic villain of Thatcher the tax snatcher does have the occasional slightly amusing meeting with Geldoff, sings "I’m Still Standing" and generates a bit of rap with Mrs T/Mr G.

Admittedly her appearance is usually accompanied by a projected back montage of newspaper clippings of the horrific policies she was inflicting on people, but the audience’s attention will be on the comic turn of Maggie and Bob.

Most of the thirty-seven songs have a confident, well performed, pounding sameness about them as if their purpose was to brighten up a well-heeled karaoke party. Indeed, on one occasion, many of the audience joined in.

There are probably many people alive today who would have been dead but for the Band Aid musical gesture of compassion that acted as a focus for millions across the world to try and help starving people in Africa. The gesture was important but didn’t deal with the problem.

The UN’s 2023 report on the hunger crises across the world points to Ethiopia along with Sudan, Burkina Faso and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as being in serious need of food.

Meanwhile, Forbes Business magazine reported that the world’s billionaire class during the COVID crisis alone increased their wealth by a third.

It will take more than a sing-along with Bob at the Old Vic to deal with the connection between these facts.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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