The White Album

Michael Pinchbeck
Nottingham Playhouse
(2006)

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It was the first double LP in history to get to the top of the charts. It even managed to make the singles chart - no other double album has managed that to this day. The Beatles' The White Album is considered one of the most influential recordings ever made. But is it really as good as some critics suggest?

Released in 1968, The White Album expanded some of the experimental themes the band tinkered with on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But in my opinion it doesn't reach the heights of its predecessor nor Abbey Road which followed. That's because at the time of The White Album the Beatles were four individuals who were all pursuing their own agenda rather than pulling together for the sake of their millions of followers.

The White Album had a lasting impact on many people, especially Charles Manson. He was the brutal killer who claimed the Beatles were prophets sending him messages through their music. He and his followers, known as The Family, murdered a number of people including the actress Sharon Tate.

The LP's significance is explored in The White Album which is having its world premiere at Nottingham Playhouse. The theatre's artistic director Giles Croft came up with the original concept and directs, with a script by Nottingham writer Michael Pinchbeck.

The play chronicles the life of Beatles' fanatic Miles who commits suicide by taking a drugs overdose while listening to The White Album. In flashback we see his fraught relationship with girlfriend Julia, the internecine battles between the Fab Four as they make the album and the murders the record inspired.

The production isn't without its problems. It has thirty scenes, each corresponding to the number of tracks on the double LP. The name of each song is projected onto a screen - but copyright problems mean you hear only a snatch of some songs and nothing at all of others.

The scenes move randomly from Miles' personal difficulties to Manson's murdering henchmen to the Beatles' fighting over studio sessions. There is a cast of only seven, so sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between the characters.

There's no hero to latch on to - Miles is an inadequate human being with egocentric tendencies; Daniel Rigby who takes the role presents Miles without any warmth or spirit so that we don't feel any sympathy for him. And the group themselves come over as selfish individuals, not the type we imagine were responsible for maniacal reactions from their fans.

The highlights are Phoebe Thomas's impressive performance as both Julia and Sharon Tate, and Dean Stobbart's portrayal of Mal Evans, the drunk, irrational roadie shot dead in his motel room by a police officer.

For the most part, though, I sat through The White Album feeling detached from and not in tune with what was happening onstage. At the beginning of the play, Miles urges the audience to discover the sub-text of each song. That's difficult if you're not familiar with the music because you hear so little of it.

I never got beneath the surface of the record. Consequently, to me the play seems more Helter Skelter than Revolution.

"The White Album" runs until April 8th

Reviewer: Steve Orme