Simon Ward reviews Tomorrow May Be My Last at The Union Theatre
This show – described as a ‘music-driven play’ – is not for the faint-hearted. It is a loud, sweaty romp though the all-too-brief life of its inspiration and its star – Janis Joplin – lovingly brought to life by the writer, actor and singer Collette Cooper, who also co-directed with Niall Phillips. But if you succumb to its charms, as I did, you will be wishing it was longer than its 85 minute running time.
To say that Cooper embodies Janis would be an understatement – she is possessed by her, and through her passionate, powerful performance we are brought as close as it is possible to get to an intimate, intense evening with our heroine. Be warned – there is audience participation and it is not really optional, especially in such a small space. But the passion and sincerity is so overwhelming that you barely notice. You will feel that you really are there, at a vague Woodstock-like gig, although perhaps more of a warm-up night in a small club, listening to the highs and lows of Joplin’s journey from small-town misfit to international star.
The scene is set as we enter by the band (the superb TSP Collective) and very good supporting cast in flower-power mode, serenading us with 60s classics like Blowin’ In the Wind and San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), so we can be in no doubt what era we have found ourselves in.
In homage to Joplin’s notoriously rackety reputation, Cooper lands on stage comically late, having been cued twice by the band, and pursued by an irate manager, and then proceeds to tear the house down with song after irresistible song. I confess to not being a Janis Joplin fan – I am more aware of her persona than her music – but that presented no obstacle to enjoying the music – each song was immediately catchy and immersive. I was also nervous at first that the sound may be too overwhelming, but the technical crew did a brilliant job of keeping it rocking but not deafening within the confines of the small space.
The evening consists of Cooper-as-Janis talking us through the rollercoaster ride of her life, from being bullied and a misfit growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, to finding fulfilment and acceptance among the misfits she finds in the hippy scene of California. But it is not all plain sailing, of course, as we know this will not end happily and there are intimations of setbacks and failed love affairs along the way. The show is not afraid to up-end our expectations with some jarring shifts of tone, which work to remind us of the tragedy at the heart of an otherwise upbeat and playful evening.
This is very clearly a labour of love for Collette Cooper – her passion shines through every minute. The show seems to have been put together on a shoestring, and is only running for a few nights, but it really deserves a wider audience which I hope it will get at some point. It is one of those nights where you leave the theatre glowing with joy – a wonderful way to get back to live theatre after the long hiatus we have all endured.
Tomorrow May Be My Last is playing at The Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX until Saturday 28th August.