Just For One Day @ Old Vic, London

Live Aid — the musical, featuring Sir Bob Geldof and Margaret Thatcher in a dance off/spoken word/rap battle, lots of 1980’s music and even more conscience and politics. Vigorous with energy from cast and band, sit back, enjoy the music, ignore the very 2024 ‘80’s’ fashions and thrill to the pacey staging from John O’Farrell and Luke Sheppard. Warning — this musical may trigger flashbacks of just how vile Margaret Thatcher’s policies were and compulsive booing!

It is weird to see your childhood memories being titled ‘history’. Even weirder was seeing Margaret Thatcher presented as a comedic turn — I want to boo her. Even in song she was behaving monstrously. Generational angst aside, this musical version of Live Aid is in the gap between jukebox show and straightforward musical, nostalgia and politics. With clever use of lighting and dramatic backdrops, the epicness and audacity of Geldof’s vision is realised.

But, it’s not about him — it’s about the people. Mixing Sir Bob’s (Craige Els) heartfelt (and heartwarming) personal journey into making a difference with personal reminiscences and a story of a music fan, we follow the story of why Live Aid happened in the first place. Neatly brought in are the We Are The World moments from America too. Even better, Ethiopians are given voice (through doctor Amara, Abiona Omonua) and a questioning woman of today (Naomi Katiyo’s Jemma) considers representation and politics. Best of all, it’s a show about people with a lot of privilege and none coming together to care and love others with practical help and support). Which is so needed in the current climate.

Also enjoy the novelty of concerts where no-one (individually) was able to film anything — or wanted to!

Inspite of the heartrending topic, a lot of the musical is very funny — due to Sir Bob’s unwillingness to take any nonsense from anyone (even Mrs T), his commitment to make a difference no matter what and his very public f’-bombs! Margaret Thatcher (Julie Atherton) is presented as a comedy turn, even when she is behaving heartlessly by taking VAT from charitable donations. The production tries to be fair to her and humanise her, but to me she was still monstrously bad for this country. Much as I wanted to boo her, I equally wanted to cheer Sir Bob for his fight for justice for ordinary Ethiopians against all odds — of doubt, apathy, war and corruption. For his sheer lack of ego or fame seeking — what a heroic not-hero! Refreshing!

Only remembering the Live Aid concert and the single, it was intriguing to have all the facts filled in and to learn the wider story. And what a story it is! I really liked the voice given to ordinary Ethiopians and their experiences throughout the musical. I loved too seeing the Live Aid logo winched down onto the stage.

The 1980’s canon of songs take you from a blue-lit Vienna a la Midge Ure to a passionate Dancin’ In The Streets to huge standards such as I Don’t Like Mondays and Bohemian Rhapsody. Heart in the mouth inducing, the fatal moment when the sound failed for Paul McCartney’s Let It Be finale is also recreated. Rather than cloning or reproducing the 70 artists and their performances word for word, move for move, we get more of the essence of the tracks, rocked by the vivacity of the cast. Cleverly, the songs work into the story really neatly rather than being more of a jukebox favourite tracks selection.

However the ‘80’s‘ fashions are very now, which is a shame. Although Sir Bob does have a mullet and the requisite stubble! The Style Council’s ‘You’re The Best Thing’ also deserves a better interpretation — notes seem to be cut off before the emotional Weller swell you’d expect, and it sounds odd. I think too that more audience participation could be worked in — whilst we’re not there to sing and dance, We Will Rock You cries out for a clap along. This created tension as I think throughout people were unsure about whether to join in…or not. A little bit of joining in (given that it’s all about concerts) would be perfection.

Whilst I wasn’t sure to begin with, I found myself swept away by Bob Geldof’s zeal, his delightful blagging by naming artists not yet signed up on live TV, the concert manager’s kitchen clock timekeeping (Joel Montague’s Harvey) and the sheer vitality of the singing. Yet we also get to hear things from Ethiopian viewpoints, utilising song to do this at points and to understand the political tensions of the time too. Uniquely this musical starts as strongly in the second half as the first and evenly delivers throughout, with a terrific live band on stage throughout. (One of whom gets to do the Brian May solo moment!)

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!