Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dear Rockertinkler

Daniel Ashman and Lee White
The Space
(2011)

Dear Rockertinkler production photo

What if you were appalled at the current state of the world - the disproportionate wealth of the very few compared to the shocking poverty of many? Well, you wouldn't be the first, and that in itself would not a compelling story make. But what if you were suddenly shot to wealth and power yourself, and given the opportunity to divert the global flow of money from the poor and vulnerable to the rich and conscience-less? This is the premise of Ashman and White's Dear Rockertinkler, seen first in various pub and festival settings. The writers are also comedians and actors, and perform the story between them.

It's a gloriously daft ride. We begin with our hero Max (Ashman), in the shabby flat he shares with his best friend (White), bemoaning the aforementioned state of the world. Goaded by his flatmate's threat to withold beer until he stops moaning and actually gets up does something about the situation, Max writes a letter to the fearsome JJ Rockerchild: in the world of the play, a combination of Rothschild and Rockefeller, and basically representing the ultimate megalomaniac. Rockerchild (White again) is tickled enough by Max's abusive tone to invite him for a face-to-face meeting at which Max expounds his socialist principles, and Rockerchild snarls about red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism, until the old man suffers a diabetic attack and Max saves his life. Touched by this unprompted altruism, on his death Rockerchild bequeaths his entire fortune and status to Max.

The plot is saved from veering towards soapiness by the deft lightness of the playing and the swiftness of the action after Max inherits his riches. He dives into his role as Chair of the Bilderberg Group - in a clever scene, he suggests some pretty astute changes to the Group (releasing the patents on electric car battery technology, ending the taxes on disease-fighting drugs). But the powers that be aren't exactly happy to have this man - with his ideological, unfettered mind and total lack of interest in his own welfare - in their midst, and Max soon finds himself on the run from the authorities for his efforts in making the world a better place.

What it comes down to most of all, though, is the friendship between the two flatmates. White is a brilliant multi-tasker - playing not only Rockerchild but also his predatory assistant Claudia, and a shady billionaire member of the Bilderberg Group - but he's best of all when singing a lonesome guitar song about how he misses Max, and what debauchery he imagines he's getting involved in.

But in fact Max never abandons his principles, and things don't turn out too well for him as a result. With a nice line in right-on politics, and a final strange flight into offbeat spirituality (very much in the spirit of Kevin Smith's Dogma, let's say), this is not the most subtle or complex show but it's mighty refreshing.

Most of all it's nice to see a show that knows its heart from the very start; there is no clever debating of the nature of altruism, Ashman and White aren't interested in exploring the political complexities involved in the idea of redistributing wealth - the play begins with the assumption that making the system fairer would basically be a good thing, and it doesn't waver from this.

The first scene could kick things off with more of a bang: we open with Ashman intently listening to a soundscape of vital events from the 20th century and growing increasingly emotional, but this idea of the play taking the long view of history and global economics isn't quite capitalised on. But it gets better and better, and climaxes with a fantastically silly and totally narratively-dislocated musical number in which both caution, and clothes, are thrown to the winds.

It's a piece that was obviously made for festivals and/or to be a variety act as part of a raucous night out. So the fact that Dear Rockertinkler manages to feature some quite stirring emotional moments, as well as a bucket-load of laughs, is pretty impressive.

Reviewer: Corinne Salisbury