Anyone hoping this is Toploader: The Musical, will be quickly disabused of the notion when they see the promo posters for this, featuring actor Miles Mlambo in a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the late rocker Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.
Lynott is an inherently interesting character to be doing a play about. A cultural icon of dual heritage, born to a single mum at a time when many things were in flux – music, social attitudes, his native Ireland – you couldn’t script a greater melting pot of tensions. Couple that with the fact that for a star as big as he was, he goes curiously untalked about nowadays and you have a recipe for a fascinating solo piece.
Mlambo’s self-penned work doesn’t disappoint. He’s the physical embodiment of Lynott, for sure, but also heaps a lot of character into the mix. Lynott seems an affable chap, consumed by his passions, and able to brush off disappointments fairly quickly. Life is met head-on with attitude and determination. ‘I’m a black, Irish bastard. If I didn’t make it in rock ‘n’ roll, I wouldn’t make it at all.’ Lynott’s unfazed by what nowadays would be called micro-aggressions – the curious kids at his new Irish school who want to touch his hair – but he knows more entrenched racism when he sees it – the taxi driver who tries to rip him off thinking him to be Nigerian, the women mocking his mother for giving birth to the ‘n****r’.
What also comes across is his deep Irishness. He opens with the scene-setting story of ancient Irish hero, Brian Boru, but we learn later that he immersed himself in Irish literature and folk music, which informed the rich mix of rock, blues, soul and folk found in Thin Lizzy. And it wasn’t just Irish folk music he was into. There’s a sweet moment when he falls in love with Scotland’s Incredible String Band after hearing Robin Williamson.
The most affecting aspect of this character is in his silences though. Lynott has a girlfriend, who he gets pregnant. We see he can’t deal with the emotions and sadnesses surrounding this. He stands there, his face easily readable, before launching passionately into another musical anecdote. In such a way, we see the escape route, the avoidance of pain that music gives him.
If there’s anything missing from this piece, it’s actual music. Presumably royalty costs are prohibitive for a small scale production like this, but we don’t actually get to sample what made Lizzy great until we exit, which is a shame. This is also all prelude to his career. The play ends abruptly with a meeting that would define the rest of his life and finally give him his fame. Thus, we get the making of the man, but not the end result. That’s not a major problem, but it does mean you have to take his future legendary status on trust, if you weren’t already aware of it. Lynott was not just any old kid with a dream.
On the upside, that ending does mean there’s a sequel to be made should Mlambo ever fancy the challenge…