It’s easy to pigeon-hole The Small Faces as a novelty 60s act if all you’ve ever heard is their chirpy sing-along number Lazy Sunday – ‘wouldn’t it be nice to get on with my neighbours,’ and all that. In fact, though, Steve Marriott and his band were legitimate musicians, intent on being taken seriously for playing rhythm and blues. They were, for an all-too-brief period in the 1960s, one of the biggest bands of swinging London’s Mod culture.
There are two Steve Marriotts in this show – young Steve, attempting to carve out a career in music and old Steve, narrating events from the sidelines. This hindsight gives the show an extra layer of poignancy – the play is as much about Steve’s personal journey as it is about the musical journey of the band.
Like so many rags-to-riches musicals, we meet Steve as a young pretender, watch him meet contemporaries who dig the same music and threads as him, form a band and attempt to take on the world. We watch as the band’s egos, addictions and other frailties begin to have adverse effects on their fortunes and as an audience wish things had been different. All of this is set to a soundtrack of the band’s biggest hits, interspersed throughout the show making for a number of pleasurable ‘Oh yeah, they did that one’ moments.
Samuel Pope (young Steve) and Chris Simmons (old Steve) portray the flawed Marriott with wonderful sensitivity, while Carol Harrison’s performance as his mother Kay is brilliantly comedic – watch out for her ‘posh’ voice.
Where some shows make use of elaborate sets, All or Nothing keeps things pretty minimal – using a few props, a band set-up and good, old-fashioned imagination to move the narrative from location to location. The quality of the acting and the dialogue means the audience is never in doubt as to where the action is taking place or what’s going on.
If you’re after a fun night out, a sing-song and a trip down Memory Lane, make sure you catch All or Nothing – it’s just ‘too beautiful’.
All or Nothing will be playing nightly at the Sunderland Empire until 22 April. www.atgtickets.com