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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story
New Ambassadors Theatre       Summer 2005

Joe Meek was Britain's answer to Phil Spector, a record producer and songwriter whose electronic experiments led him to create his own wall of sound and whose personal demons led him to madness and the fatal use of firearms. In Meek's case, he famously shot his landlady with a shotgun and then himself in 1967.

His best known hit was Telstar, an international hit for the Tornados in 1962.

The parallels, however, lie more with that other Joe (Orton), since the setting is the seedy underbelly of London of the Swinging Sixties, flavoured by Meek's madness, pill-popping and enthusiastic yet necessarily clandestine homosexual lifestyle (still a crime in those days).

But this trawl through seven years of the producer's life (sub-subtitled "The Curse of Britain's Biggest Hit") fails to find much of a story or memorable characters in the way that the superior Prick Up Your Ears did with Orton.

Nevertheless, Mike Moran and James Hicks' play gives you much to think about - if only how much better it could have been done - plus a lot of laughs along the way and a genuinely unsettling final ten minutes.

Con O'Neill creates a highly sympathetic Joe, leaving space enough to reveal the inner torment in his hi-octane portrayal of an amphetamine-fuelled life accelerating towards disaster.

Caught up in his orbit are an unlikely gallery of real-life acquaintances, musicians and hangers-on: gor-blimey but loving landlady Mrs Shenton (a scene-stealing Linda Robson), old-school business partner Major Banks (Philip York) and twitchy song-writer Geoff Goddard (Gareth Corke).

Joseph Morgan is deliciously gormless as Meek's protege and love interest Heinz (who had a Meek-produced hit with Just Like Eddie), but he is somewhat overexposed as a result of the writers' attempts to shoehorn the gangly blonde pop singer into the plot as the principal metaphor for Meek's obsessions and downfall.

Director Paul Jepson does an impressive job of marshalling this hard-working if uneven cast around the clutter of Meek's north London flat, an authentically shabby set by Tim Shortall complete with piano with drawing pins on the hammers, cables, chintzy wallpaper and Meek's self-designed control room, lined with that awful pegboard soundproofing.

Nick Awde

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Review of Telstar - New Ambassadors Theatre 2005

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