Spiegeltent, Aotea Square, Auckland

17/03/2016 - 20/03/2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

In a nutshell:  
Triple threat theatre / Laneway lovers must-see / Homage to great 20th century rock

“…industrial, thumping, brooding, banging. A delicious cacophony” The Stage, UK

Fusing rock, industrial and electronic, The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy is a live rock concert and theatre performance dripping with front man cool – think The Hives sound tracking a Tim Burton tale. 

In this classic coming-of-age story we follow Tommy, a teenager who leaves his home on a hilltop to see the sea for the first time. On his way he meets several shady characters who don’t belong in the city. Music genres change gears as each new character makes their entrance while intricate live hand-drawn illustrations weave their way across the backdrop to create a magical atmosphere. 

The brainchild of Belgian award-winning musicians Jonas Vermeulen and Boris Van Severn, and recipient of the Scotsman Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015, Tommy is an energetic whirlwind performance of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll that thumps the soul. 

“This show has achieved cult status at Summerhall. No wonder. Spellbinding.” Read the Musical Theatre Review of The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy here.

Spiegeltent, Aotea Square
Thu 17 – Sun 20 March 2016, 7:00pm
70 mins no interval
Price $39 – $360 (8 booth seats)

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Theatre , Rock Opera , Musical ,

Full of energy and pizzazz

Review by Penny Dodd 18th Mar 2016

The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy is the brainchcild of the two Belgian front men, Jonas Vermeulen and Boris Vansevern. Their starting point was to explore “to what extent could a concert become a theatre performance and the other way round?” 

This desire for this exploration is one that New Zealanders also share, with recent works such as Daffodils and the ATC’s upcoming That Bloody Woman, both melding contemporary rock music styles and theatrical storytelling.

Boris and Jonas are two extraordinary front men, both charismatic and great singers, actors, musicians. They are well supported by Pieter-Jan Janssen on bass, and Thomas Deckx on drums.  All the characters in the episodes that describe Tommy’s journey (or odyssey) are played by Jonas and Boris, in monolgue and song, utilizing their full vocal ranges from sweet falsetto to punk scream.

They are also the guitarists and keyboard player of the band, and are amazingly good musicians, with Jonas getting incredible layered textures out of some looping of his vintage Korg drawbar organ and Rhodes stage piano. 

Behind them is a lightbox with a live drawing happening in real time by Sarah Yu Zeebroek, who contributes her soprano voice to the final number. The characters and symbols occur and develop as the show progresses. It’s nice to watch, and check in with from time to time: another dimension to the story. 

Above the light box is a touch of genius: the surtitles. Unfortunately the daylight in the Speigeltent at 7pm makes it hard to notice them, but with nightfall this is remedied; also the lighting is able to make a much fuller effect. This show probably would have fared better in a black box theatre, where you could see more of the performance and the performers.

The show is full of energy and pizzazz, great guitar stylings, and a youthfulness that permits such broad statements as, “a journey through music history that gives the floor to the outsiders of society.” The music is more than a history lesson or a series of pastiches; there is a cohesiveness and sense of compositional style that exists of itself.

True there are musical references, but they are incorporated into the new form and are theatrically grounded as part of the storytelling. It starts off hitting quite hard, with amplified megaphone and full-on distorted guitar. It becalms in pathos for quite a while – a chance to check out the drawing behind – ventures into pop, reprises the early numbers, and settles in a melodic and effect-full meditation.

In all, The Great Downhill Journey is very entertaining, dazzling at times, brilliantly performed, and well worth a visit. The opening night audience gives them a standing ovation, and queues for CDs and the chance to purchase the night’s live drawing.


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